State health officials say schools should be prepared to send students with even mild symptoms of the coronavirus home, and that rapid testing will be necessary for schools to remain open.
On a call with school nurses and school leaders on Friday, the state epidemiologist Dr. Benjamin Chan and deputy state epidemiologist Dr. Elizabeth Talbot said that rapid testing and clear communication about the ease, safety, and accuracy of testing was key to identifying and containing COVID-19 in school communities.
Chan and Talbot also emphasized the importance of masks, even during recess, if social distancing couldn’t be guaranteed.
“The more masking, the more likely we will be likely to keep school open,” Talbot said on the call.
The state reinforced recommendations from the N.H. School Nurses’ Association that schools document the health conditions of students, to distinguish between the coronavirus and chronic conditions like allergies.
And unless it's a known chronic condition, the state said, school nurses should err on the side of caution when they see students with runny noses, coughs, and other possible symptoms of COVID-19.
In those cases, students should go home and get a COVID-19 test with a negative result before being allowed to return to school.
The state clarified that if a student with symptoms of COVID-19 refuses to get tested, they should be treated as a possible COVID-19 case and required to stay home for at least 10 days.
Depending on the severity of the symptoms and the rate of transmission in the community, their siblings may be asked to stay home as well.
But Dr. Chan stressed that given all the factors in each possible case, schools will have to work with public health officials on a case-by-case scenario.
“There’s a lot of gray area here. And that’s one thing that makes it difficult,” he said. “It’s hard to come up with a strict protocol that fully addresses all the situations you might encounter.”
COVID and The Classroom: NHPR wants to understand how this unusual school year is playing out across the state. Every few weeks, we'll ask you to answer a new question. The latest: How has going back to school been different for you this year? Give us a few examples here to help us tell the story.