Last week, the New Jersey Department of Health (NJDOH) released COVID-19 Public Health Recommendations for Local Health Departments for schools.
“The Department of Health in collaboration with the Department of Education, has developed guidance to help local health departments assist schools in providing a safe environment for students and staff,” said Health Commissioner Judith Persichilli. “Understanding that COVID-19 may impact certain areas of the state differently, the Department will provide data by six regions of the state to inform local decisions.”
Southern New Jersey regions are:
• Southwest: Burlington, Camden, Gloucester, Salem
• Southeast: Atlantic, Cape May, Cumberland
Every week, beginning this week, NJDOH will be providing information on COVID-19 transmission at the regional level, characterizing risk as low (green), moderate (yellow), high (orange), and very high (red). This information will be posted online on the Department’s website. Where a region falls in the color-coding categories is based on three criteria—number of cases in past week, percent positivity past week and syndromic surveillance in the past week.
When regions are in the very high-risk category (red), it is recommended that they implement fully remote learning.
Schools in other risk levels should consult with their local health departments as they work to:
• Implement protocols requiring staff and students to stay home when sick or if they have been in close contact with someone with COVID-19 in the past 14 days. School administrators should be notified of illness.
• Develop a policy for daily symptom screening for students and staff; have plans for students and staff to report symptoms that develop during the day
• Identify rapid testing resources when staff and students develop COVID-19 symptoms.
• Clean and disinfect frequently touched surfaces at least daily
• Ensure adequate hand hygiene supplies are available
• Implement physical distancing measures such as reducing occupancy, installation of partitions and physical barriers, and cancelling large gatherings
• Implement source control through wearing face covering
Regional risk levels are just one tool that local health departments (LHDs) and schools can use when assessing COVID-19 risk. Local health departments have additional knowledge of COVID-19 in their jurisdictions that can inform local planning and response actions.
Local health departments should maintain close communication with school officials in their community to provide information and share resources on COVID-19 transmission, prevention, and control measures and to establish procedures for LHD notification and response to COVID-19 illness in school settings. LHDs should identify a designated point of contact within each school that will be responsible for coordinating COVID-19 response with local public health authorities.
The recommendations released today also provide information about length of school exclusion, the role of testing and steps to take to respond to suspected and known positive students in schools and outbreaks identified in schools.