TMA physicians release tools to navigate school reopening

Workers wearing protective suits spray disinfectant as a precaution against the new coronavirus at a subway station in Seoul, South Korea, Thursday, March 12, 2020. For most people, the new coronavirus causes only mild or moderate symptoms, such as fever and cough. For some, especially older adults and people with existing health problems, it can cause more severe illness, including pneumonia.(Park Dong-joo/Yonhap via AP)

School officials and parents across Texas are consumed with a pressing issue: How to minimize the risk of reopening schools during a pandemic.
To help, physicians from the Texas Medical Association (TMA) have released a comprehensive package of materials to aid with reopening schools as smoothly and safely as possible.  

Items released include:
– A statement endorsing “universal use of masks at all practical times” in schools;
– A graphic and guide for school COVID-19 infection control, including a collection of scientific materials to help local physicians support campus leaders and families in achieving a successful reopening; and
– A tool to help school nurses assess students who show symptoms of possible COVID-19.

(Links are below.)
Led by its 20-member School Reopening Workgroup, TMA is offering schools and physicians these tools to help mitigate risk for COVID-19 spread as classes resume across the state. TMA said in a news release.
Texas physicians understand infection control and academics must go hand-in-hand for a successful return to in-person school this year. The School Reopening Workgroup – comprising members of the association’s COVID-19 Task Force, Committee on Infectious Diseases, Committee on Child and Adolescent Health, and multiple local health authorities from around the state – began meeting in late July to tackle the complex issue.
Among the materials released is a one-page guide detailing four “legs” that form the table of a school’s sturdy COVID-19 infection control plan.
Available here:
The four legs are:
– Adopt safe procedures;
– Require safe behaviors;
– Create a safe environment; and
– Manage sick students and staff.
The second workgroup product is a Decision Tree Tool for School Nurses, which outlines the criteria nurses should consider when assessing a child with common COVID-19 symptoms, and how to evaluate whether to exclude a symptomatic student from the classroom.
Available here:
The third element is a  statement supporting mask-wearing at school. TMA and the Texas Pediatric Society (TPS) said in a joint release that schools should require “universal use of masks at all practical times” and should use face coverings in combination with other infection control measures until there’s a widely distributed vaccine for COVID-19.
Download the statement here:
TMA President Diana L. Fite, MD, and TPS President Tammy Camp, MD, said that masks and face coverings slow viral spread even when the wearers don’t know they’re infected.
“In school environments where physical distancing of at least six feet can be difficult to maintain, the importance of correct mask wearing grows,” the physician leaders said. “Almost all staff and students can wear masks safely. Blanket exemptions for face coverings or masks are not appropriate unless for medically contraindicated categories.”
As the school infection control document notes, “High community transmission of COVID-19 can overwhelm even well-crafted plans.”
As physicians are trusted experts in their communities, the “table-legs” guide shows doctors how to help campus leaders and families achieve a successful return to school.
The guide includes tips and links to best-practice guidelines from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, Texas Education Agency, American Academy of Pediatrics, and more.
TMA is the largest state medical society in the nation, representing more than 53,000 physician and medical student members. It is located in Austin and has 110 component county medical societies around the state. TMA’s key objective since 1853 is to improve the health of all Texans.
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