Wisconsin’s state health department and the DPI released new COVID-19 guidance for schools this week.
The recommendations emphasize universal masking amid concerns that the delta variant of the coronavirus is driving a surge in cases of COVID-19 and many school children remain either unvaccinated or unable to be vaccinated.
To help facilitate a return to safe, in-person learning, DPI updated its COVID-19 Infection Control and Mitigation Measures for Wisconsin Schools 2021/2022 and DHS its updated Guidelines for the Prevention, Investigation, and Control of COVID-19 Outbreaks in K-12 Schools in Wisconsin based on new recommendations from CDC.
Both state agencies are strongly recommending school districts use these recommendations when implementing local responses to the continuing pandemic.
The COVID-19 precautions outlined by the state Department of Health Services and state Department of Public Instruction are recommendations and are not binding on school districts. However, state officials emphasized that masking, social distancing and other preventive measures will help keep school buildings open and students learning in person.
Speaking to reporters, Deputy State Superintendent John Johnson said, “We want schools open for in-person instruction, and we want kids safe, staff safe and families safe. That’s why we strongly recommend the use of the guidelines DHS has provided across our state.”
The DHS guidance urges schools to encourage vaccination of students, staff and community members who are eligible. DHS is also offering optional, free school-based COVID-19 testing this year.
In an email to district administrators, State Superintendent Jill Underly summarized key recommendations from the guidelines:
- The strong recommendation that we mask all children and adults indoors: This includes school buildings and school activities, including athletics held indoors.
- REQUIRING masking on school buses and school transportation: This, again, is required.
- Outdoors masking is not required. (I strongly recommend building into your school schedule outdoor mask breaks, not just for 4K-5 during recess, but also for 6-12. This is also mentioned in the DPI Guidance).
- Layered mitigation and prevention measures include:
- Promoting COVID-19 vaccination among eligible students, teachers, and staff
- Promoting consistent and correct mask use for everyone, regardless of vaccination status
- Encouraging physical distancing and cohorting
- Screening testing of students and staff who have symptoms
- Staying home when sick and getting tested
- Improving ventilation
- Hand hygiene and respiratory etiquette
- Enhanced cleaning and disinfection
- Signage and communication
in her email, Dr. Underly noted that the DHS recognizes these recommendations are not exhaustive, and that it may not be appropriate or feasible for every school to implement these strategies.