Schools up building safety as students return for spring classes

NOW: Schools up building safety as students return for spring classes

ROCHESTER, Ind. -  As students return back to school this spring, we take a look back at if district cleaning and safety protocols are really keeping your child safe.

The way you walk into schools is different this year because you have school staff greeting you at the door with sanitizer. We wanted to find out if walking inside a school is the same as walking inside a restaurant or grocery store.

“I feel like our schools are very safe," Jason Snyder, the principal at Columbia Elementary School in Rochester said.

For staff at Rochester schools, safety is personal.

“I've got three kids in the corporation," he said.

So making sure school buildings are kept up and restrictions maintained, is top priority.

“I have no concerns about sending them to school every day.," he said. "So not only are they coming into a clean environment, but we try to keep it clean while we're here.”

Between social distancing...

“Our rooms are spread out as, as much as we can," he said.

Mask wearing...

“Anytime the kids have to be in close proximity of them, they wear their masks," he said.

And cleaning efforts...

“We have scheduled handwashing times during the day," he said. "We've got spray bottles throughout the building that we use for contact surfaces.”

I sat down and talked with St. Joseph County Deputy Health Director Mark Fox about how this virus might be engaging with children in schools and he doesn’t think there is cause for alarm.

“So where schools have been able to engage mitigation strategies, they do seem to operate pretty safely. There hasn't been a lot of trans there was a concern early on that students would infect, teachers, and that seems to, you know, have maybe only rarely been the case," Fox said.

People say hospitals are probably the safest place because of the cleanliness, Dr. Fox said that's not necessarily the case with schools.

“They haven't said that about schools. And yet, there's pretty good data that where schools are able to effectively engage all the mitigation strategies," he said. "There is a low rate of transmission that we've been able to detect.”

A low transmission rate despite all of the unique challenges the school day brings for kids.

“I think for many of our schools, keeping the six feet of separation becomes a real challenge. And then meals also become a big challenge in the school setting," he said.

For Rochester schools, case counts are at a minimum.

“Oh, no. And primarily it's families and stuff outside of school that impacts our kids," Snyder said. "They're here for seven hours. And you know, that's a lot of time outside of the school day of other interactions and things that we really have no control over.”

Another challenge, keeping students safe after they leave the building.

“I don't want to say rules, but I think we have protocols in place that we can enforce. And that we can ensure are taking place," he said. "In restaurants and in public areas, you don't really have any control over that”

“I'm a little bit surprised that we don't see more evidence of transmission in that setting. And yet I fear that it's because our contact tracing is not effectively zeroed in on that. This is my real concern there," Dr. Fox said.

Administrators say as the virus continues to evolve, as we see with the UK strain affecting children to a greater extent, so will the precautions they take to keep your kids safe.

“Absolutely. Yeah. You know, initially with the covid, not really impacting many kids, when we start to hear that now, there's something out there that is affecting them. Yeah, it's scary," Snyder said. "If we were able to see a pattern of transmission or something like that we can step in and put, you know, protocols and safety measures into place, but we haven't seen anything like that. There's everything we seem to, you know, be doing is working.”

“I think if it does hit us really bad. I think we'll be prepared," Samantha Butler, a school nurse said.

Now there hasn't been a ton of cases of the new UK strain in the U.S but I'm sure with vaccines around the corner, at least some have peace of mind.

Governor Whitmer announced this week that K-12 teachers among others, like childcare providers, are in the next round of being vaccinated which starts this next Monday.

As for Indiana, teachers should be getting vaccinated soon as well. Dr. Fox said that at least for the county, it could come as soon as Monday. As for students, that may be a while.

One thing is for sure, mask-wearing and other mitigation strategies will most likely stay for some time even with the vaccine.

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