Education, health officials discuss factors in potentially closing schools

Education, health officials discuss factors in potentially closing schools
Austin High School in Decatur (Source: WAFF)

DECATUR, Ala. (WAFF) - Earlier this week, the three school systems operating in Morgan County all defended their decisions to move forward with in-person instruction when class resumes. Now, they’re going into more detail about what they’ll be looking for when they decide whether or not to change their plans.

Decatur City Superintendent Michael Douglas says the system will abandon in-person instruction if Morgan County reaches “very high risk” designation from the state health department. He adds that 70% of the school system’s students have opted for in-person classes.

Assistant State Health Officer Dr. Karen Landers says the Risk Indicator Dashboard that Douglas is referring to should be a factor in these decisions, but it shouldn’t be the only one. Speaking to our news partners at the Decatur Daily, Landers said “If a county goes up in the risk level, but your school is not experiencing cases or outbreaks, you shouldn’t necessarily automatically close the school. That’s a very difficult decision that the superintendents and principals will face,” She went on to add “The risk indicator looks at trends and percent positivity, but we also should look at what’s happening in our individual settings and individual age groups.”

Landers is a pediatrician, and points to recent studies showing children under 10 as being less likely to spread the virus and less likely to have severe complications themselves if they’re otherwise healthy. Elementary schools are at lower risk than middle and high schools, she says.

Dr. Jeanne Marrazzo, director of UAB’s Division of Infectious Diseases, also points to developing evidence that children are less likely to spread COVID-19.

“Little kids, in particular those that are less than 10, are probably not major sources of infection,” she said.

Marrazzo also had bad news for schools seeking to keep the virus at bay. Most school districts, including DCS, are asking that parents monitor their children’s temperature before they go to school each day. Marrazzo cautioned that this common screening tool is not a particularly effective method of detecting COVID-19.

“Screening for fever will pick up a very small percentage of people who are infected, either because they’re not going to develop fever — which not everybody does — or because they’re too early in the infection to actually have started to develop a fever,” Marrazzo said. “I don’t want people to get a false sense of security when they find they don’t have a temperature or their kid doesn’t have a temperature.”

You can read much more about the ADPH Risk Indicator Dashboard in today’s edition of the Decatur Daily.

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