Covid, how to reopen school safely

How to travel safely for the next school year? While it is true that schools spend a lot on surface disinfection activities, it is equally true that instead there is limited consideration of the scientific evidence that calls for investment to improve air quality. Interventions that would allow you to face the next school year without resorting to the use of masks.

School and risk of infection: here are the rules for a safe return to teaching

by Irma D’Aria



This is one of the findings that emerged from the research carried out by the Gimbe Foundation in collaboration with the National Association of Public Leaders and High Professionalism at School (NPC), which involved 312 educational institutions. The study also reveals difficulties in tracking activities: in one case out of three ASL delays in the activation of the procedures for which they are responsible. 76.2% of respondents stated that they received surgical masks in larger quantities than necessary.

The Gimbe Foundation published in October 2021 the report “Covid-19 safety in schools: from scientific evidence to the real world”, summarizing the scientific evidence published up to August 2021, which shows, on the one hand, that there is no zero risk of infection on the other hand, suggests that it is possible to minimize it using a multifactorial approach by integrating individual and environmental preventive interventions: from vaccines to periodic screening, from masks to distancing, from quarantine management to temperature measurement, from disinfection of hands and surfaces for aeration and ventilation of the premises.

Covid and schools, mixed education worries principals and psychologists: what children risk

by Irma D’Aria



“Given the lack of availability of systematic data on the real level of implementation of the main containment measures for the COVID-19 pandemic in Italian schools, we have launched a study to have objective data”, he declares Nino Cartabellottachairman of the GIMBE Foundation.

“We considered it fundamental – he explains Antonello Giannellichairman of ANP (National Association of Public Managers and High School Professionals) – to collaborate with the GIMBE Foundation to develop and promote the survey that was sent to over 6,000 school leaders at all levels, also to be able to formulate concrete and realistic proposals with a view to the start of the next school year”.

How the research was conducted

Taking into account the ANP index, which consists of 6,002 school leaders, a representative sample of 361 respondents was calculated with a margin of error of +/- 5%. 438 managers signed up for the survey, of which 126 were excluded from the analysis because they did not answer any questions. The total number of respondents included in the analysis is 312, which corresponds to a margin of error of +/- 5.4%. The survey, carried out with the SurveyGIZMO software, was prepared in the period May 5-1. June 2022.

Results

The heads of 312 educational institutions answered the survey, which can have schools of different qualities for a total of 649 schools divided into childhood (163), primary school (183), youth education (186), high school (111), provincial centers for adult education (6) representative of all the Italian regions.

What was studied: vaccinations

46.8% carried out information activities about the anti-COVID-19 vaccination campaign aimed at students and parents, 21.5% involved students only. Only less than a third of schools (31.7%) did not carry out additional promotion of the student vaccination campaign compared to the Ministry of Education. The ASLs only carried out vaccinations in the school premises in 11.9% of cases, and 45.1% of the heads of the schools where it was not carried out do not consider this initiative useful to increase vaccination coverage probably – comments Giannelli – ” because the current legislation does not facilitate such experiences “..

Testing

20.3% of schools participated in the test campaign “guard schools” for primary schools (Table 7), while 12 school institutions (5.9%) declare that, despite having been selected and given availability, the campaign was never launched by the competent bodies.

Tracking and quarantines

The classes were subjected to tracking and the quarantine measures were issued in accordance with the deadlines set by the legislation in about two-thirds of the cases (63.3%). Non-compliance with the deadlines was only due to a delay on the part of the school in reporting to the ASL in 4.5%, while in 32.2% of the cases the delay related to the activation of the procedures under the responsibility of the ASL (Table 8 ). “These data – notes Cartabellotta – confirm how much the shortage of health personnel in the epidemiological services in ASL continues to represent an unresolved problem”.

Measurement of body temperature

As many as 96.5% of schools have purchased devices (digital thermometers and/or thermal scanners) for recording body temperature (Table 9), but the temperature measurement of students entering school is in 39.7% of cases delegated to families and in 31.6% it was not performed (Table 10). “A number – comments Giannelli – which testifies to the lack of dedicated staff in schools to implement these measures”.
Masks. In 83% of cases, the commissary structure immediately guaranteed the supply of the masks with regard to the entry into force of the relevant provisions, but 76.2% of the respondents received more than necessary. In 88.4% of cases, schools believe they have purchased an adequate amount of FFP2 masks for self-monitoring lessons. In the hypotheses foreseen in DL 5/2022, FFP2 was worn by all students and for the entire expected duration in almost all cases (97.4%).

Gap

In two-thirds of schools (66.6%) in the classroom it was possible to maintain a distance of at least 1 meter between students, while due to classroom-specific structural constraints it was not possible in 6.4% and in 27% it was possible . possible, but not in all classes. The structural or organizational changes implemented to meet the distance obligations involved, to a large extent, the conversion of common areas, to a lesser extent the use of courtyards and structures outside of teaching; other changes that mainly related to structural interventions and/or restructuring of school hours. In 82 cases no changes were implemented.

Hand hygiene

The interventions to ensure proper hand sanitation of school staff and students have been implemented in an optimal way: availability of dispensers in the appropriate rooms (98.7%), standardized procedures (92.9%), training interventions for school staff and students (91.6 %) .

Surface hygiene

To ensure the cleaning of the surfaces, new personnel were used only in 39.9% of cases (hiring or outsourcing); the purchase of specific equipment and products according to the school’s instructions (98.4%) and the use of standardized procedures (96.5%) are actually implemented almost everywhere according to the ministerial instructions that have ended the resource use. Surface sanitization with liquid cleaners and/or disinfectants continued to be carried out in 89.7% of cases “despite scientific knowledge – comments Cartabellotta – has definitively confirmed since the spring of 2021 that SARS-CoV-2 is transmitted almost exclusively by air”.

Ventilation and ventilation of the premises

To improve the ventilation and airing of the premises, we have mainly relied on the “open windows” protocol (No. 285), to a lesser extent on air purification and filtration equipment (No. 84) and only in 9 cases were installed controlled mechanical ventilation systems. In 46% of cases, no information was received from the Ministry or ASL about the widespread transmission of the virus by aerosol and about devices or systems for ventilation of school environments. In only 14.8% of cases did the information relate to both questions. “The absence of structural interventions capable of guaranteeing adequate ventilation and aeration of the premises – comments Giannelli – is the real Achilles’ heel, in the absence of which the next school year can hardly be faced without resorting to the use of masks. “.

Why don’t we look at the scientific evidence?

In this sense, Cartabellotta continues, “the limited awareness of scientific evidence leads to allocate too much public money to surface disinfection activities without allocating sufficient investment to improve air quality, which we continue to rely mainly on the protocol “Open Windows”””
Funds DL 265/2021. In 83.2% of cases, the schools used the funds from the Ministry of Education’s decree 265/2021 to ensure a safe start to the 2021/2022 school year.

Many critical questions in the elections

“The results of the study – Cartabellotta and Giannelli concluded – provide an objective picture of the measures implemented to increase the COVID-19 security in schools and reveal various critical problems that should hopefully be resolved before the beginning of the 2022 school year -2023 Moreover, unlike last school year, some preventive interventions are “blunt.” First of all, the effectiveness of the vaccine against the infection was found to be lower in the 5-11 age group than in the older age groups and the current coverage ( with two doses) have stopped at about 35% with significant regional differences, while the third dose has not yet been approved by the EMA; secondly, with a variant as infectious as Omicron 5, tracing activities are of limited utility; finally, less than 1% of the infections are due to contact with infected surfaces. Consequently, in order to limit viral circulation in schools it is a priority to improve air quality to avoid relying again on the bare coupled “open windows” protocol and FFP2 masks. An aspect confirmed by WHO Europe, which has recently defined the 5 “stabilizers of the pandemic” for the next autumn-winter season, one of which is “ventilation of public and crowded spaces (such as schools, offices and public transport)”.

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