New PHMDC guidelines say schools can safely reopen with strong infection-control measures in place

Empty classroom desks

MADISON, Wis. — Dane County public health officials have released updated recommendations for schools as districts decide whether to return to in-person learning during the pandemic.

Using national and international research on disease transmission, public health officials believe schools can operate safely as long as strong infection-control measures are in place.

“In the summer, our advice relied on community incidence, models, and expected safety risks. Now, we have emerging data, and while not complete, the evidence is strong that schools, particularly elementary schools, can function in a way that minimizes risk, when they have the right health precautions in place, including mask-wearing and social distancing,” said Janel Heinrich, Director of Public Health Madison & Dane County.

Public Health Madison & Dane County has recommended using a phased approach which begins with elementary schools.

“Schools reflect our community picture, so given the level of disease in our community, we expect some schools to be impacted by students and staff testing positive for COVID-19, but research is showing that having schools open, especially with the youngest learners, does not increase community spread,” Heinrich said.

Decisions will be up to individual districts, as PHMDC is unable to make decisions regarding opening schools due to a state Supreme Court injunction.

Under the current public health order, all K-12 schools in the county are still required to follow the infection-control provisions listed below:

  1. A hygiene policy and cleaning policy that reduce chance for disease spread by ensuring:
  • People experiencing symptoms of COVID-19 do not come to or remain in school
  • Frequent handwashing and proper cough and sneeze etiquette
  • Frequently touched surfaces are disinfected multiple times a day
  • Common areas are cleaned between use
  • There are protocols for cleaning and disinfecting in the event of a positive COVID-19 case on site
  1. A protective measure policy that reduces everyone’s close contact with others by ensuring:
  • Everyone ages five and older wear face coverings when indoors and on buses
  • Everyone is at least six feet from others to the greatest extent possible when indoors and on buses
  • The same group of students stay with the same employees as much as possible and mixing between groups is minimized
  1. Implement Public Health’s action plan PDF  for COVID-19 case(s) at the school.