The New Jersey Department of Health (NJDOH) on Aug. 13 released a 19-page memo that provides guidance for in-person school reopening plans and how schools should handle positive COVID-19 cases.

The full text of the memo can be found here.

The guidelines include recommendations on when to close schools.  For instance, one confirmed case of COVID-19 in a school would mean schools remain open, and students and staff who have been in close contact with the person testing positive would quarantine for 14 days.  However, if there were two or more cases identified within 14 days that occur across multiple classrooms and a clear connection between the cases can’t be identified (such as the cases come from the same household),then school would close for 14 days.

The guidelines also provide a COVID-19 Regional Risk Matrix, for use by local health departments in the state when providing guidance to school districts. The matrix divides the state into six geographical regions by counties: Northwest (Morris, Passaic, Sussex, Warren); Northeast (Bergen, Essex, Hudson); Central West (Hunterdon, Mercer, Somerset); Central East (Middlesex, Monmouth, Union, Ocean); Southwest (Burlington, Camden, Gloucester, Salem); and Southeast (Atlantic, Cape May, Cumberland), and on a weekly basis, classifies each into one of four color-coded categories: green, yellow, orange and red.

If the number of coronavirus cases or the percentage of tests that come back positive rises or the department’s syndromic surveillance indicates a higher incidence of the coronavirus, schools could close in the region.  For instance, a region classified as “red” would see fully remote learning implemented.

According to the NJDOH, the system is similar to how to the department manages flu surveillance. “This regionalize system will provide a view of transmission more locally and help inform decisions on the ground,” said New Jersey Commissioner of Health Judith Persichilli in remarks during the governor’s briefing on Aug. 12.

Guidance on Cleaning, Classes, Hygiene  The memo also notes that, in accordance with the governor’s Executive Order 149, high school sports may resume only under the reopening protocols issues by the New Jersey State Interscholastic Athletic Association (NJSIAA).  It also says that school districts should ask parents to fill out forms each day saying that their child is free of coronavirus symptoms and that children have not had close contact with someone with confirmed COVID-19, that no household members have it, and that the child has not traveled to an area of high community transmission.

NJDOH also recommends that choir and instrumental music classes be held outside if possible, and that physical distancing should be prioritized for wind instruments and singing.

There are also recommendations on cleaning and disinfection of schools, as well as teaching and reinforcing handwashing for students and staff. In addition, the memo notes that, under the previously issued Executive Order 175, all students and staff must wear face coverings except under certain circumstances.  The NJDOH memo notes that clear face shields are not considered face coverings.

The Aug. 13 memo, “COVID-19 Public Health Recommendations for Local Health Departments for K-12 Schools” is posted online.

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