Expert Advisory Panel 4 discuss COVID-19 precautions for hybrid learning

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CALEB WELDON AND OLIVER HECHT/SAGAMORE STAFF

In planning the necessary precautions, Expert Advisory Panel 4 examined the risk for transmission of COVID-19. The Panel focused on ensuring social distancing in the high school, as well as ways to limit exposure for specialist teachers.

The Expert Advisory Panel 4: Public Health, Safety, and Logistics discussed precautions schools will take to minimize the spread of Covid-19 in hybrid learning on Friday, Oct. 23.

A large portion of the meeting was spent discussing the way Brookline measures infection rates. Benjamin Sommers, a professor of Health Policy and Economics at the Harvard School of Public Health, said Brookline looks only at the percentage of positive tests, because it provides the most information about anyone who is getting a test, rather than other models that do not count people who have been previously tested.

David Gacioch, co-chair of the panel, said that Brookline uses four metrics to decide when to shutdown: average new cases daily in Massachusetts, average new cases daily in Brookline, test positivity rates in Massachusetts and test positivity rates in Brookline. All of these metrics are currently below the threshold at which a shutdown would be considered, but the average new cases daily in Massachusetts are getting close to their limit.

Covid cases in Massachusetts have risen from 200 new cases a day to up to 700 cases a day in September and October according to Meghan Baker, a hospital epidemiologist at Dana Farber and a Brookline parent.

One big area of concern that the panelists discussed was how to keep lunch safe.

Baker said that making sure that there is ample space outside and inside for students to eat socially distanced is most important.

“A big part is making sure that everybody has a space to eat safely that works with the workflow as well, because if you need to eat at a certain time and there’s no place to go, it’s not fair to say go outside and eat,” Baker said. “Making sure that we have appropriate space is very important.”

Panelists were still uncertain as to what spaces like these would end up looking like, but they discussed plans of dividing gyms and cafeterias to be socially distanced, as well as setting up large tents outside for when it’s not too cold.

The panelists also debated how to address the issue of specialist teachers -language, health and wellness, art – who are exposed to far more students than other teachers and often go to different schools throughout the day.

“You risk shutting down entire schools for one case because you have a specialist in 20 rooms,” Sommers said.

While they did not reach a final plan, Expert Advisory Panel 4 agreed that specialist teachers should not be moving between buildings.

Lastly, Baker stressed the importance of health protocols that all schools and students need to follow in order to keep the hybrid model safe for everyone.

“Making sure that air ventilation and air turnover is appropriate and hand hygiene is important because you can theoretically get from touching a surface and then touching your nose and eyes, “Baker said. “Lastly, schools should focus on symptom screening, making sure that those who test positive are not coming to school or to work.”