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9 Tactics Schools Can Use to Combat the Delta Variant

Aug 3, 2021

Since the COVID-19 pandemic forced a near-total shutdown of schools in the spring of last year, students, teachers, school staff, their families, and local communities have shared dual fears about education and safety. With the Delta variant now surging through the U.S., the 2021–22 school year is shaping up to be similarly concerning, and schools will likely need to quickly and continually adjust their reopening plans in response to the rapidly changing virus.

With the back-to-school season just around the corner, the time is now for everyone with a stake in uninterrupted in-person learning—from district and school leaders to distribution partners and cleaning professionals to parents—to get up to speed on best tips for transmission prevention.

What Is the Delta Variant?

“…compared to the Alpha variant, Delta spreads 50% faster [and] has a 50% higher contagion rate.”

Delta is the name of a strain of the SARS-CoV-2 virus that causes COVID-19. Originating in India during the winter of 2020, the mutation that differentiates the Delta variant from others allows the “spike protein” to bind more effectively to the surface of cells. As a result, compared to the Alpha variant, Delta:

  • Spreads 50% faster.
  • Has a 50% higher contagion rate.

As of writing, the Delta variant accounts for about 85% of cases in the U.S. and is on track to become the dominant strain in the world.

The symptoms caused by the Delta variant also tend to differ from those traditionally associated with COVID-19, with loss of taste or smell and cough being less commonly reported, and fever, sore throat, and runny nose being more commonly reported.

Why Are Schools of Particular Concern?

“Studies have shown that children are 2.5 times more likely to catch the Delta variant…”

Studies have shown that children are 2.5 times more likely to catch the Delta variant than those in the 18–49 age range. This is due in part to the fact that no vaccine is currently approved for children under 12, and that vaccination rates for eligible children over 12 are comparatively low.

The increased likelihood of children becoming ill with COVID-19, coupled with the higher transmissibility of the Delta variant mentioned in the section above, has stoked concerns for schools everywhere, and especially where vaccine uptake is low. Indeed, outbreaks in both schools and the community at large can grow exponentially and more quickly than with previous strains.

How Can Transmission Be Prevented?

According to Cleanlink, the cleaning industry’s leading information resource for distributors, building service contractors, and in-house cleaning professionals, “the next best step for facility cleaning managers looking to keep occupants safe is continuing the practices of hand washing, disinfecting key touchpoint[s], and reinforcing the priority of students staying home at the sight of any symptoms.”

These recommendations are firmly rooted in the guidance issued by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. While schools and districts should also consult state, local, territorial, and tribal public health departments, the CDC’s proposed policies are generally considered the gold standard. The July 9, 2021, iteration on which this post is based emphasizes selecting and implementing the multiple, layered prevention strategies summarized below based on:

  • Level of community transmission.
  • Community and school COVID-19 vaccination coverage.
  • Community and school outbreaks or trends.
  • Screening testing program for non-vaccinated individuals.
  • Ages of students and relevant social and behavioral factors.

(1.) Cleaning and Disinfection

The CDC indicates that cleaning once a day is usually sufficient enough to remove potential virus particles that may be on surfaces, and that disinfecting with EPA List N disinfectants “removes any remaining germs on surfaces, which further reduces any risk of spreading infection.” Other CDC-issued advice includes:

  • Pre-cleaning surfaces that are visibly dirty prior to disinfection, unless the disinfectant’s label cites both cleaning and disinfection.
  • Continuing to prioritize high-touch surfaces, such as counters, tables, pens, doorknobs, stair rails, desks, phones, toilets, faucets.
  • Both cleaning and disinfecting if someone inside the school has been sick or tested positive for COVID-19 in the last 24 hours. For best practices, see #13 in Part 1: SARS-CoV-2 / COVID-19 FAQ.
  • Cleaning and/or disinfecting more frequently in high-traffic shared spaces, due to the presence of those with increased risk for severe illness, or based on some of the factors listed above (high community transmission, low vaccination rates, etc.).
  • As always, keeping disinfectants out of the reach of children and following all label directions, paying close attention to PPE, dwell time, and application method.
  • Avoiding “disinfection” methods for which effectiveness against COVID-19 has NOT been established (ultrasonic waves, high-intensity UV radiation, LED blue light).

For more information on which surfaces to disinfect, as well as how to clean and/or disinfect soft or porous surfaces, laundry, and electronics, click here and see #9–12 in Part 1 of our COVID-19 FAQ. To learn about SARS-CoV-2 specifically regarding food-contact surfaces, children’s toys, and outdoor areas, please consult Part 2: SARS-CoV-2 /COVID-19 FAQ, #18, #22, and #35.

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How do you communicate that a facility is clean and safe?

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(2.) Handwashing and Respiratory Etiquette

It is still necessary to teach, monitor, and reinforce healthy personal habits for both fully vaccinated and non-vaccinated individuals, as well as provide adequate supplies. These behaviors include:

  • Covering coughs and sneezes.
  • Frequently washing hands with soap and water for 20 seconds or more, helping young children as necessary.
  • Using hand sanitizer with at least 60% alcohol when handwashing is not possible.

(3.) Promoting Vaccination

According to the CDC, “vaccination is currently the leading public health prevention strategy,” and it is believed important for teacher, staff, eligible students, and families. Schools and districts should consider:

  • Providing information about COVID-19 vaccination—including where vaccinations are available (visit vaccines.gov for details)—through hosting informational sessions, using CDC COVID-19 Vaccination Toolkits, etc.
  • Encouraging vaccine trust and confidence, specifically by adapting key messages based on the school and community populations.
  • Making vaccination as easy and convenient as possible by:
    • Partnering with public health authorities or local healthcare organizations.
    • Offering vaccines on-site
    • Allowing absences for the purposes of getting vaccinated or recovering from potential side effects.

(4.) Consistent and Correct Mask Use

While schools may universally require masks depending on the factors listed above and especially if serving students under 12, the CDC advises that:

  • Teachers, staff, and students (age 2 and older) who are NOT fully vaccinated wear a mask indoors, unless they are exempt due to:
    • Age (under 2).
    • Disability.
    • Risks to health or safety.
  • It is not generally necessary for teachers, staff, and students who are fully vaccinated to wear a mask indoors.
  • It is not generally necessary for vaccinated or unvaccinated individuals to wear a mask outdoors, unless in a crowded area or engaging in close-contact activities.
  • Everyone, including passengers and drivers, be required to wear masks on school transportation (regardless of vaccination status or policies at school).

(5.) Physical Distancing

While the CDC broadly recommends that anyone who is not fully vaccinated maintains a distance of at least 6’ from others who are not in their household, within classrooms:

  • At least 3’ of physical distance should be maintained.
  • When 3’ is not possible:
    • Distance to the extent possible.
    • Lean on other prevention strategies, such as regular cleaning or cohorting.
    • Do NOT exclude students from in-person learning for the purposes of distancing.

(6.) Ventilation

In order to reduce the number and concentration of virus particles in the air, the CDC suggests:

  • Opening several doors and windows.
  • Using appropriate fans to increase air circulation.
  • Changing HVAC or air filtration systems as necessary.
  • On buses in particular, opening windows a few inches.

(7.) Screening Testing to Promptly Identify Cases, Clusters, and Outbreaks; (8.) Staying Home When Sick and Getting Tested; (9.) Contact Tracing, in Combination with Isolation and Quarantine

According to the CDC’s guidelines, it is NOT necessary for fully vaccinated individuals to participate in screening testing. Those who have NOT been fully vaccinated, however, should participate in screening testing that:

  • Quickly identifies cases, so teachers, staff, and families of students who were close contacts can be informed within the same day if possible.
  • Is performed at least once per week, with results reported in 24 hours or less.
  • Takes privacy laws into consideration.

Schools should work with state and local health departments to confidentially provide information about people diagnosed with or exposed to COVID-19.

  • Those with a positive COVID-19 test should isolate.
  • Individuals who have been exposed to someone with COVID-19 and are not fully vaccinated should quarantine.
  • It is not necessary for fully vaccinated individuals without symptoms to quarantine or get tested after exposure.

Regardless of vaccination status, anyone with symptoms of infectious illness should stay home and consult their healthcare provider. Such absences should be non-punitive for students, teachers, and staff. 

 

Like you, Betco believes that in-person learning benefits students and communities. Our team can answer your questions, provide advice, and offer insights to help schools continue their fight for safe education against the larger COVID-19 pandemic and the Delta variant. To get in touch, please call us at 1-888-GO-BETCO, or click here to fill out an online form.

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