June 16, 2020
Head of Strategic Investments and Alliances, Standard Bank
Suzanne P. Clark
President and CEO, U.S. Chamber of Commerce
With school shutdowns necessitating remote learning and limited in-person interactions, the ongoing coronavirus pandemic has had a profound impact on our children. In a conversation with the U.S. Chamber of Commerce President Suzanne Clark, three experts weigh in on children and coronavirus, how to safely reopen schools, and what learning might look like in the near future.
Decreasing Density, Increasing Sanitation and Mask-Wearing Can Help States Safely Reopen Schools
Schools and childcare across the country shut down in the spring to mitigate the spread of coronavirus, but by the summer and fall, many began to look toward reopening. Dr. Margaret Hamburg, former FDA Commissioner and Chair of the American Association for the Advancement of Science, recommended that schools and childcare centers focus on reducing risk.
Hamburg encouraged schools to find ways to maintain some level of social distancing, including decreasing the density by staggering classes or staffing. She also emphasized the importance of increasing sanitation and hygiene practices, ensuring proper circulation and asking people to wear masks to the greatest degree possible.
Finally, she recommended that staff and children get a COVID symptom screening beyond a temperature check each day they come in.
"Temperature is a very unreliable measure," Hamburg explained. "Some people have [had a] serious infection without really mounting much of a temperature."
Instead, she noted that a new loss of smell or taste is the most reliable indicator of COVID-19.
"We're going to have to be prepared to respond to data in order to really make these settings as safe as possible."
Children and Coronavirus: Schools Continue to Work Toward Addressing Students' Needs During the Pandemic
According to Denver Public Schools superintendent Susana Cordova, reopening strategies will likely vary at different stages of the virus — in-person, remote or hybrid learning are all potential options.
"If we can do so in a way that keeps kids safe, I think it's critical ... that kids are in school as much as we can possibly have them in school," Cordova explained. "But it is also potentially the case that we may need to have 100% remote learning."
In addition to navigating a safe reopening, the school system has worked to provide for students' basic needs, addressing issues such as food insecurity and a lack of technology.
"We've served over 800,000 meals since we moved to a remote setting in mid-March," Cordova said.
The school also passed out 50,000 computers and close to 10,000 hotspots to support families getting access to the internet.
Given the Opportunity, Most People 'Will Do the Right Thing' to Protect Others
Kevin Washington, president and CEO of the YMCA of the USA., noticed that many of the organization's patrons readily followed mask-wearing and social distancing regulations.
"In many instances across this country, when they were asked to wear masks because it really protects the other folks ... you can see that they adhere to the rules and regulations," said Washington, noting that patrons often self-monitored their own actions.
"We see what happens when you try to force things — it doesn't stick," he added. "But as we've done things on a voluntary basis, most people will do the right thing."
Washington encouraged childcare and other organizations to approach the issue from an angle of community, emphasizing to patrons how adhering to CDC guidelines helps us to protect each other.
In the Remote Learning Era, Social and Emotional Needs Must Be Met, Too
Between the abrupt shift to remote learning, a lack of in-person interaction and the uncertainty moving forward, the pandemic has been challenging for children, educators and families alike. In addition to the learning hours lost, addressing students' social and emotional needs will be paramount.
Cordova cited teachers doing evening office hours to reach students who couldn't log in until their parents — or they — returned home from work.
"We are really putting an emphasis on the social-emotional needs of our staff and our students," Cordova explained. "You can't learn if you can't focus."
The event was hosted by the U.S. Chamber of Commerce Foundation.
From the Series