How America Is Navigating the Return to In-Person Education

America’s pandemic recovery efforts in 2021 have been focused on safely reopening schools and encouraging vaccinations.

Air Date: April 29, 2021

Moderator: Suzanne P. Clark, President and CEO, U.S. Chamber of Commerce

Featured Guests: Dr. Robert Kulick, Associate Director, NERA

Over a year since the onset of the coronavirus pandemic, America has turned its attention to recovery. The United States’ success in managing the virus can be largely attributed to the distribution of the coronavirus vaccine, in conjunction with the widespread implementation of safety measures.

With these in place, schools across the country have begun to safely reopen. However, there is still a long road to “normalcy” in United States classrooms, and school districts will need to weigh the risks and benefits of bringing students back to school for in-person instruction.

During a panel discussion hosted by the U.S. Chamber of Commerce, three experts shared their perspectives on the true COVID-19 risk levels of classroom education, safety protocols schools must continue to follow, and the role of administrative and support staff like school nurses in promoting a safe return to school.

In-Person Education for Children Presents a Lower Risk of COVID-19 Infection and Transmission

America’s focus on returning children to in-person instruction is a major component of reopening the economy. While some may have concerns about the safety of this endeavor, a recent report by the Walton Family Foundation shows that children face the lowest risk of COVID-19 infection and transmission.

“The threat of COVID to children is far [more] minimal than we thought this time last year,” explained John Bailey, advisor at the Walton Family Foundation.

“Kids tend to be the least at-risk for the viruses — not zero, but it’s much, much lower than older populations,” he continued. “The transmission of the virus tends to be a lot less with kids under the age of 10.”

Navigating the Return to School Means Enforcing Safety Protocols

When the state of Ohio offered schools the option to reopen in the fall of 2020, Governor Mike DeWine found similar results to the Walton Family Foundation report.

“We found out that in the classroom when everybody is wearing a mask, even if they’re two feet from each other, three feet from each other, there [isn’t] any spread,” DeWine stated.

This discovery, combined with a number of students falling behind in virtual learning, prompted the governor and his staff to turn their efforts toward safely and fully reopening schools.

“You do see spread coming from what kids are doing outside of class hours, outside of school,” the governor added. “But in the classroom itself, everyone wore a mask and they did it phenomenally.”

School Nurses Can Play a Big Role in Supporting Public Health and Vaccine Uptake

Lori Combe, president of the National Association of School Nurses, supported the recent findings on COVID-19 transmission rates in schools.

“[In schools] where mitigation processes are followed, transmission rates have been low,” said Combe. “Primarily, rates of transmission among students have been related to athletic groups.”

She also noted the importance of school nurses in supporting public health measures, particularly vaccine uptake, amongst students and their parents.

“Where school nurses are present in school, vaccine exemption rates are much lower, because school nurses are trusted healthcare providers in those communities,” explained Combe. “They can educate parents about the facts related to the vaccine. School nurses remove barriers to vaccine uptake.”