This week the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) in Atlanta, Georgia, USA published its latest Safe School Operations Guidelines on March 19, 2021. Reading the report confirms the effectiveness of our layered approach to reducing transmission of the coronavirus. These layers, which we all know now include everyone wearing proper masks consistently, physically distancing, hand washing and respiratory etiquette, cleaning of facilities and contact tracing when an outbreak occurs. I am proud that our school has been open since early October and remained open this school year using much of the protocols and concepts in the report. Below is a list of ideas in the report that came to my attention.
- Masks are primary in reducing the spread. The most effective masks fit well on the face, have 2-3 tightly woven cloth or other fabric layers.
- The CDC lowered the recommended physical distance between students to 3 feet (0.9144 meter) for elementary schools and middle and high schools in times of low to substantial community transmission. They recommend going back to the 6 feet (1.83 meters) in times of high community transmission. They recommend always maintaining 6 feet between adults and between adults and children in schools.
- Approximately 30% of the participants in high school wrestling tournament in Florida, USA were infected from an outbreak on one of the teams.
- More resources for schools provided by the CDC can be found here. The CDC also collected research on transmissions in school here.
- Table 1 (above) gives guidelines to determine the level of community transmission. Using the official data from the March 25 World Health Organization Uzbekistan Situation Report, I calculated Tashkent currently has a “low” or blue level of transmission.With a 7-day average of approximately 100 cases per day in a city of 3 million people, that equals 3 cases per 100,000 people. Today, March 27, we had 143 cases in Tashkent, a high daily total for 2021. That raises it to 5 cases per 100,000 people, which is getting closer to the yellow or moderate transmission category.
We are currently debating on loosening our protocols in phases. One of the areas is mixing cohorts in sports and extracurricular activities. We are currently experiencing a slight rise in cases and this has delayed any actions as we wait and see what the trends will be over the next month. Below is the confirmed new cases averages from WHO Uzbekistan office. We are hoping that the latest increases in cases does not go to the heights of July and October.
The next challenge for TIS is vaccinations. Besides just getting access to vaccines for both foreign and host country nationals here in Uzbekistan, we have the additional challenge of timing and travel restrictions. We have 11 weeks of school before summer break when most of the foreign staff travels to their home countries. Our Summer Break is about 8 weeks before teachers are expected back to prepare for the school year start. The time between doses ranges from 3 weeks (Pfizer-BioNTech) to 1 month (Moderna) to 6/12 weeks (Astra-Zeneca). The Johnson & Johnson would be best because it requires only one dose. I am concerned that this will cause travel delays for our foreign employees if they are not able to schedule a second dose in time for traveling back to school. The CDC provides some resources for schools regarding vaccines including posters to promote vaccinations.