UNMC expert answers "what if" questions when it comes to students returning to school

What if a student gets COVID-19? What happens?
Posted at 9:35 AM, Jul 28, 2020
and last updated 2020-07-28 10:35:26-04

COVID-19 is still a relatively new virus, there's much we don't know. What we do know is that the virus is complex and dangerous.

"What we do know about the virus is that up to 60 percent of people that are not have a visible illness or clear signs or symptoms that would tell them or anyone else that they're sick," UNMC Assistant Vice Chancellor for Health Security Dr. John Lowe said.

It's this information that makes the return to school in just a few weeks an incredibly stressful time for parents.

"The primary stresser, the biggest unknown is how is this all going to play out," one Bellevue Public Schools parent said.

The plan by most districts for now is to have students physically return in some form come August.

Different school districts have laid out a color-coded system of reopening from green to red. Ralston Public Schools recently moved from green to yellow, while other school districts are still at a green level meaning a 100% return back to school.

We sat down with Dr. Lowe to ask some of the "what if" questions when it comes to reopening.

What happens if COVID-19 cases continue increasing in different counties?

"So if the current trend of increased cases in our community continues, we'll likely see schools move to full remote learning or delayed starts," Dr. Lowe said.

Fully remote learning is an option many schools districts have thought out but not yet put into practice.

What if someone in the class or a teacher is infected with the virus?

"We're going to be very transparent. It's in everyone's best interest to minimize the spread. So if we have a student that has tested positive and other students or staff members have been exposed, we're going to notify those families immediately," Papillion-La Vista spokesperson Annette Eymen said.

County health departments will make the decision as to who should quarantine - which also depends on the precautions that were being taken in those specific settings.

"If no one's wearing a mask, it's going to impact the whole class. If that individual isn't wearing a mask it's going to likely impact the whole class or a larger group of people. But, by having mask as an intervention is probably going to reduce the number of people that are deemed at risk and need to stay home," Dr. Lowe said.

If students have to quarantine, what happens to attendance if a student is only allowed to miss a certain number of days during the school year?

"Our attendance policy is going to be much more relaxed this year. And we understand that," Eymen said.

The Nebraska Department of Education has laid out a plan for those that miss school due to COVID-19. Overall, the rules will be much more lenient this year, and even if someone is in quarantine, they can still be counted in attendance if they learn remotely.

What are the odds that schools return in 100% capacity in a few weeks?

"Based off of the transmission rates from the last week, if we stay at the level of transmission we're at or the level of transmission increases, I'll be surprised if schools in our area open at capacity," Dr. Lowe said.

Dr. Lowe also adds that based off the thresholds put in place by multiple health experts, the Omaha metro community is above the threshold of cases at which schools should be considering in-person schooling.

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