State releases “playbook” for how schools should handle coronavirus outbreak

PROVIDENCE, R.I. (WLNE) – State leaders have released the Playbook for school districts to deal with the COVID-19 crisis in the classroom this fall.

The 24-page Outbreak Response Playbook: Pre K – 12 guide outlines how to tell if someone is showing symptoms of COVID-19, defines what “close contact” is in a school setting, explains isolation and quarantine protocols, and outlines testing recommendations.

“It’s really based on the best evidence and science that we have in terms of how to prevent and address COVID-19 in our school systems as they reopen.”

Dr. Philip Chan, one of the medical directors at the Rhode Island Department of Health, spoke with ABC6 Friday afternoon ahead of the release of the Playbook. He said the guide has been a collaborative effort between the Department of Health, the Department of Education and the Governor’s office.

“What you’re seeing with this playbook isn’t something that we developed yesterday or last week, this has been the accumulation of efforts from the past few months based on the knowledge that we’ve had and the data since the beginning of this pandemic back in December.”

Dr. Chan said the group is making sure to be careful and conservative with the decisions surrounding reopening schools and said it’s important to be flexible, that’s why we school districts were asked to submit multiple plans for virtual, hybrid and in-person learning.

“What this playbook does, is it will outline what happens should there be in-person school, what happens if someone tests positive in the school system, how to identify cases, how quarantine, how isolation will work, when to seek emergency care, as well as provide a lot of resources for both parents and schools on what COVID-19 will look like, the response.”

Schools have been told to try and form stable pods, Dr. Chan said, that way, if an outbreak were to occur, an entire school wouldn’t need to be shut down.

“First thing that we’ll do is we’ll work, the Department of Health will work closely with the school system, closely with the school, and what we’ll do is we’ll really identify the close-contacts that that positive person may have had. Once we’ve identified those close contacts, even if they have no symptoms, we will ask them to quarantine for 14 days.”

According to a spokesperson from the Department of Health, while the Playbook provides guidance for general scenarios that could arise, RIDOH and RIDE will consult closely with schools on all COVID-19-related health issues that surface to help manage those specific situations.

When asked his feelings about the concerns of families ahead of this school year, Dr. Chan replied, saying he’s a parent himself and feels safe sending his children.

“I have a 9-year-old and a 13-year-old. I am concerned. I am concerned, but as a parent, I also realize the importance of some in-person teaching, social engagement. I’m gonna send my kids back, at least for a partial opening to see how that goes. I think it’s worth the risk,” said Dr. Chan. “As long as people adhere to what we’ve outlined in terms of public health guidance in terms of masking and physical distancing and environmental cleaning, you know, people should be relatively safe.”

Decisions about reopening schools for in-person instruction in Rhode Island will be made considering five factors: statewide data, municipal data, testing capacity, the availability of supplies, and operational readiness. Schools will only be opened for full in-person learning if benchmarks in all of these areas are met.

© WLNE-TV 2020

Categories: Back to School, Coronavirus, News, Regional News, Rhode Island