Dr. James McDonald, chief administrative officer for the Department of Health, offered words of advice to parents and students preparing to head back to in-person school.
“I think it’s important for kids to learn to talk about how they feel,” he said. “Do you feel okay to go to school?’ ‘How’d the day go?’ ‘You feel okay?’ ‘Were people being 6 feet apart?’ ‘Were people wearing their masks?’ Let’s have that dialogue. Make it normal for our kids.”
McDonald, who’s become the warmest and fuzziest of the state’s COVID-19 press conference team, said young kids are heading back to school after likely not seeing many of their friends for months, adding another layer to the complexity of returning to school during a pandemic. They might not even recognize each other, he noted.
“Hugging that friend, being within 6 feet … not the best approach,” he said. “I think it’s hard for kids to really relate to what 6 feet is, but most kids know how to jump. If you can get to another kid in two jumps, you’re too close.”
Even the concept of sharing that was normal and natural pre-COVID has to change, he said. He told parents as hard as it is, they have to teach their kids that sharing objects during school right now isn’t healthy.
To help kids better understand what 6 feet looks like, McDonald suggested parents take a 6-foot piece of colorful yarn and place it around the house or yard so kids get used to the distance. He advised opening the windows of their home whenever possible and making a point to clean shared, frequently touched objects, like doorknobs and devices.
He also suggested giving extra masks to kids – keeping one at school or letting them pick out their favorite mask. He recommended sending them to school with their own bottle of hand sanitizer as well.
“One of the key things for our kids is teaching them when you’ve touched an object someone else touched, you should sanitize your hands,” he said.
He asked parents and older children to act as role models for the younger ones. We’re all role models whether we like it or not, he said.
In response to the data, though, McDonald said he felt positive about it for the first time since the pandemic broke out.
“I’m going to say something I haven’t said in six months,” he said. “I am optimistic about what I’m seeing right now. We have case finding, case investigation, contact tracing — we’re always one of the top three states that tests people.”
Gov. Gina Raimondo led off the Thursday press conference with a walkthrough of what a day of school might look like this year for students, teachers and parents.
“Get ready for everything to be different,” she said. “Get ready for this to be less convenient. It will get easier, but it has to be very structured.”
Everyone needs to get into a routine of checking their symptoms when they wake up every morning, she said. How do you feel? A sore throat, a headache, or a cough? If you’re symptom free, you can head to school. Once again, she reminded everyone to download the Crush COVID app which makes it easy to keep track of your symptoms every day.
Then Raimondo reviewed what bus transportation will look like. Since school buses are at reduced capacity, bus stops are going to have marked waiting spaces to ensure social distancing, and on the bus hand sanitizer will be available and students will have assigned seats. They’ll have to sit in their seat and wear their mask. She pointed out walk zones being set up in Smithfield that will make it easy and safe for those who can safely walk to school.
She also said there will be a health screening given to every student before getting on the bus. In Central Falls, a temperature check will be done with a thermometer. Other schools, she said, will have other ways of screening.
She urged parents to familiarize themselves with new drop off and pick up procedures.
Classrooms will likely have open windows and fans to promote air circulation, she said. Many schools will have classes and lunch outside, or lunch in a classroom with a stable group, and students will have to stay in their assigned seat and wear their mask throughout the day.
What about recess? It will still happen, Raimondo said, but it will look different. When students are outside in a stable group, they may have their own play equipment that will need to be sanitized before and after use. There may even be a schedule for when you can use certain parts of the schoolyard, she said.
At the end of the day, pick-up procedures will likely be similar to drop-off procedures, she said, and there will be staggered times and separate entrances, in most cases.
She also said many districts are placing orders for air filtration equipment to have when winter comes, as keeping windows open will become difficult when it gets really cold. She said that sort of expenditure will be covered by CARES Act funding.
In other news, Raimondo announced that between Thursday and next Friday, every person eligible for unemployment insurance will finally receive a check for up to $900.
She also announced she will be joined by Dr. McDonald and Barbara Cottam, chair of the Board of Education, for the weekly forum on her Facebook page next Thursday (9/10) at 3 p.m., focused on answering questions submitted by students. To send a question in, go HERE.She said this will also be posted on her social media accounts and will be sent out in her daily email, which can be signed up for HERE.