For the Children: A Weekly Column by Joe Dorman, CEO – OICA
As Oklahoma government officials move our state into “Phase 2” of reopening after COVID-19, it is important for us to maintain safe practices. The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention issued recommendations recently for those communities who are considering opening schools and events.
The link – https://www.cdc.gov/coronavirus/2019-ncov/community/schools-childcare/schools.html – on the CDC website recommends “schools can determine, in collaboration with state and local health officials to the extent possible, whether and how to implement these considerations while adjusting to meet the unique needs and circumstances of the local community. Implementation should be guided by what is feasible, practical, acceptable, and tailored to the needs of each community.”
They also recommend that “these considerations are meant to supplement – not replace – any state, local, territorial, or tribal health and safety laws, rules, and regulations with which schools must comply.”
This is especially important for the students who play interscholastic sports governed by the Oklahoma Secondary Schools Activities Association (OSSAA). OSSAA considered and rejected a plan Friday that would have allowed for phased return to practices, which was defeated.
Their tentative plan was to open programs back up in some capacity on June 1, allowing coaches and athletes to have limited contact. Then on June 15, weight rooms could open with strict social distancing guidelines in place. Then a third phase would come toward the end of summer. This was all contingent upon no further waves of outbreak from COVID-19.
Forget all that. Instead, by defeating the plan, it is “back to business as usual” for OSSAA. According to news reports, OSSAA will have no statewide restrictions on member schools, which will be governed by their individual school districts. No uniform social distancing guidelines will be in place, and schools will be able to have contact practice.
The problem is this: neither Oklahoma nor the nation is back to “business as usual.” COVID-19 is still out there. The next OSSAA board meeting will be on June 9, and we certainly hope they monitor the situation closely. A good guideline would be the CDC recommendations. Those include:
- Promoting healthy hygiene practices such as hand washing and employees wearing a cloth face covering, as feasible.
- Intensifying cleaning, disinfection, and ventilation of facilities and transport vehicles/buses.
- Encouraging social distancing through increased spacing, small groups, and limited mixing between groups, and staggered scheduling, arrival, and drop off, if feasible.
- Where feasible, adjusting activities and procedures to limit sharing of items such as toys, belongings, supplies, and equipment.
- Training all employees on health and safety protocols.
- Developing and implementing procedures to check for signs and symptoms in children and employees daily upon arrival, as feasible.
- If feasible, implementing enhanced screening for children and employees who have recently been present in areas of high transmission, including temperature checks and symptom monitoring.
- Encouraging anyone who is sick to stay home.
- Planning for what happens if children or employees get sick.
- Regularly communicating and monitoring developments with local authorities, employees, and families regarding cases, exposures, and updates to policies and procedures.
- Monitoring child and employee absences and have a pool of trained substitutes, and flexible leave policies and practices.
- Be ready to consult with the local health authorities if there are cases in the facility or an increase in cases in the local area.
OICA also asks schools, once things reopen, to consider staggering practice times for those families that have loved ones in close contact to one another in high-risk categories. Student athletes could transfer the illness before symptoms show up. With the large number of grandparents raising grandchildren in our state, this is an extremely important issue. Schools also should not punish athletes who are unable to practice due to this circumstance.
While we are aware that people want to return to life as usual, please remember that precautions should still remain a top priority until a vaccine is developed to help curb the spread of this virus. While statistically it might look appealing to risk the odds, we want each of you who is susceptible to infection to not gamble with your life or others around you.
Special Care Should be Taken to Protect Students and Student-Athletes
About OICA: The Oklahoma Institute for Child Advocacy was established in 1983 by a group of citizens seeking to create a strong advocacy network that would provide a voice for the needs of children and youth in Oklahoma, particularly those in the state’s care and those growing up amid poverty, violence, abuse and neglect, disparities, or other situations that put their lives and future at risk. Our mission statement: “Creating awareness, taking action and changing policy to improve the health, safety, and well-being of Oklahoma’s children.”