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CDC issues new guidelines for schools reopening

Brandon Moseley

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Most Alabama children have not seen the inside of a school building since March 13. When schools reopen in early August, if schools reopen, much will be different about school as we know it. On Tuesday, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) released guidelines on on how schools should reopen in the fall.

The CDC offers these considerations for ways in which schools can help protect students, teachers, administrators, and staff and slow the spread of COVID-19.

The CDC warns that the more people a student or staff member interacts with, and the longer that interaction, the higher the risk of COVID-19 spread. According to the CDC, the lowest risk would be for students and teachers to engage in virtual-only classes, activities, and events. More risk is small, in-person classes, activities, and events. Groups of students stay together and with the same teacher throughout/across school days and groups do not mix. The students remain at least 6 feet apart and do not share objects. Highest risk would be full sized, in-person classes, activities, and events. Students are not spaced apart, share classroom materials or supplies, and mix between classes and activities.

The CDC advises schools to a ctively encourage employees and students who are sick or who have recently had close contact with a person with COVID-19 to stay home. Schools should consider not having perfect attendance awards, not assessing schools based on absenteeism, and offering virtual learning and telework options, if feasible. Staff and students should stay home if they have tested positive for or are showing COVID-19 symptoms or if they have recently had close contact with a person with COVID-19.

The CDC recommends that schools each and reinforce handwashing with soap and water for at least 20 seconds and increase monitoring to ensure adherence among students and staff. If soap and water are not readily available, hand sanitizer that contains at least 60% alcohol can be used (for staff and older children who can safely use hand sanitizer). Encourage staff and students to cover coughs and sneezes with a tissue. Used tissues should be thrown in the trash.

Cloth face coverings are recommended for students and staff, and are most essential in times when physical distancing is difficult. Individuals should be frequently reminded not to touch the face covering and to wash their hands frequently. Cloth face coverings should not be placed on children younger than 2 years old, anyone who has trouble breathing or is unconscious, anyone who is incapacitated or otherwise unable to remove the cloth face covering without assistance. Cloth face coverings are not surgical masks, respirators, or other medical personal protective equipment.

The CDC encourages schools to clean and disinfect frequently touched surfaces including: playground equipment, door handles, sink handles, and drinking fountains) within the school and on school buses at least daily or between use as much as possible. Use of shared objects such as gym or physical education equipment, art supplies, toys, games, etc should be limited when possible, or cleaned between use.

School bus drivers should practice all safety actions and protocols as indicated for other staff including hand hygiene and cloth face coverings.

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Cleaning products should not be used near children, and staff should ensure that there is adequate ventilation when using these products to prevent children or themselves from inhaling toxic fumes.

Schools should discourage sharing of items that are difficult to clean or disinfect. Keep each child’s belongings separated from others’ and in individually labeled containers, cubbies, or areas. Schools should ensure that there are adequate supplies to minimize sharing of high touch materials to the extent possible. Schools should assign each student their own art supplies and equipment or limit use of supplies and equipment by one group of children at a time and clean and disinfect between use. Schools should avoid sharing electronic devices, toys, books, and other games or learning aids.

Schools need to ensure that ventilation systems operate properly and increase circulation of outdoor air as much as possible, for example by opening windows and doors. Do not open windows and doors if doing so poses a safety or health risk.

To minimize the risk of Legionnaire’s disease and other diseases associated with water, schools should take steps to ensure that all water systems and features including: sink faucets, drinking fountains, decorative fountains are safe to use after a prolonged facility shutdown. Drinking fountains should be cleaned and sanitized. The CDC recommends that schools encourage staff and students to bring their own water to minimize use and touching of water fountains.

Schools need to space seating and desks at least 6 feet apart when feasible. Turn desks to face in the same direction (rather than facing each other), or have students sit on only one side of tables, spaced apart. Create distance between children on school buses by seating children one child per row and skip rows when possible.

Schools should install physical barriers, such as sneeze guards and partitions, particularly in areas where it is difficult for individuals to remain at least 6 feet apart such as reception desks. Schools should provide physical guides, such as tape on floors or sidewalks and signs on walls, to ensure that staff and children remain at least 6 feet apart in lines and at other times.
Schools should close communal use shared spaces such as dining halls and playgrounds with shared playground equipment if possible. If not possible stagger use and clean and disinfect between use. Schools should add physical barriers, such as plastic flexible screens, between bathroom sinks especially when they cannot be at least 6 feet apart.

Schools are advised to have children bring their own meals if feasible. If that is not feasible then schools should serve individually plated meals in classrooms instead of in a communal dining hall or cafeteria, while ensuring the safety of children with food allergies.

Schools should use disposable food service items: utensils, dishes, cups, etc. If disposable items are not feasible or desirable, ensure that all non-disposable food service items are handled with gloves and washed with dish soap and hot water or in a dishwasher. Individuals should wash their hands after removing their gloves or after directly handling used food service items.

If food is offered at any event, have pre-packaged boxes or bags for each attendee instead of a buffet or family-style meal. Avoid sharing food and utensils and ensure the safety of children with food allergies.

Schools should offer options for staff at higher risk for severe illness (including older adults and people of all ages with certain underlying medical conditions) that limit their exposure risk: telework, modified job responsibilities that limit exposure risk, etc. Offer options for students at higher risk of severe illness that limit their exposure risk such as virtual learning opportunities.

Schools should pursue virtual group events, gatherings, or meetings, if possible, and promote social distancing of at least 6 feet between people if events are held. Limit group size to the extent possible.

Schools should limit any nonessential visitors, volunteers, and activities involving external groups or organizations as possible, especially with individuals who are not from the local community, town, city, or county.

Schools should pursue virtual activities and events in lieu of field trips, student assemblies, special performances, school-wide parent meetings, and spirit nights, whenever possible.

Schools should pursue options to convene sporting events and participation in sports activities in ways that minimizes the risk of transmission of COVID-19 to players, families, coaches, and communities.

Schools should ensure that student and staff groupings are as static as possible by having the same group of children stay with the same staff all day for young children, and as much as possible for older children.

Schools should take steps to limit mixing between groups if possible. Stagger arrival and drop-off times or locations by cohort or put in place other protocols to limit contact between cohorts and direct contact with parents as much as possible.

When possible, use telework) and flexible work hours such as staggered shifts to help establish policies and practices for social distancing (maintaining distance of approximately 6 feet) between employees and others, especially if social distancing is recommended by state and local health authorities.

Schools should designate a staff person to be responsible for responding to COVID-19 concerns (e.g., school nurse). All school staff and families should know who this person is and how to contact them.

Schools should consider participating with local authorities in broader COVID-19 community response efforts such as sitting on community response committees.

Consistent with applicable law and privacy policies, have staff and families self-report to the school if they or their student have symptoms of COVID-19, a positive test for COVID-19, or were exposed to someone with COVID-19 within the last 14 days in accordance with health information sharing regulations for COVID-19.

Schools should establish procedures for notifying staff, families, and the public of school closures and any restrictions in place to limit COVID-19 exposure such as limited hours of operation.

Schools should implement flexible sick leave policies and practices that enable staff to stay home when they are sick, have been exposed, or caring for someone who is sick. Leave policies should be flexible and not punish people for taking time off, and should allow sick employees to stay home and away from co-workers. Leave policies should also account for employees who need to stay home with their children if there are school or childcare closures, or to care for sick family members.

Schools should develop policies for return-to-school after COVID-19 illness. Consult the CDC’s criteria to discontinue home isolation and quarantine for more information on these policies.

Schools should monitor absenteeism of students and employees, cross-train staff, and create a roster of trained back-up staff. Staff should be trained on all safety protocols. Schools should conduct training virtually or ensure that social distancing is maintained during training. Staff should be trained to recognize the signs and symptoms of COVID-19.

If feasible, schools should conduct daily health checks: temperature screening and/or or symptom checking) of staff and students. Health checks should be conducted safely and respectfully, and in accordance with any applicable privacy laws and regulations. School administrators may use examples of screening methods in CDC’s supplemental Guidance for Child Care Programs that Remain Open as a guide for screening children and CDC’s General Business FAQs for screening staff.

Schools should encourage any organizations that shares or use the school facilities to also follow these considerations.

Schools should encourage employees and students to take breaks from watching, reading, or listening to news stories about COVID-19, including social media if they are feeling overwhelmed or distressed. Schools should also promote employees and students eating healthy, exercising, getting sleep, and finding time to unwind. Schools should encourage employees and students to talk with people they trust about their concerns and how they are feeling. Schools should consider posting signages for the national distress hotline: 1-800-985-5990, or text TalkWithUsto 66746

Sick staff members or students should not return until they have met CDC’s criteria to discontinue home isolation. Make sure that staff and families know that they or their families should not come to school, and that they should notify school officials (the designated COVID-19 point of contact) if they or their family become sick with COVID-19 symptoms, test positive for COVID-19, or have been exposed to someone with COVID-19 symptoms or a confirmed or suspected case.

Schools should Immediately separate staff and children with COVID-19 symptoms (such as fever, cough, or shortness of breath) at school. Individuals who are sick should go home or to a healthcare facility depending on how severe their symptoms are, and follow CDC guidance for caring for oneself and others who are sick.

Schools should work with school administrators, nurses, and other healthcare providers to identify an isolation room or area to separate anyone who has COVID-19 symptoms or tests positive but does not have symptoms. School nurses and other healthcare providers should use Standard and Transmission-Based Precautions when caring for sick people.

Schools should establish procedures for safely transporting anyone who is sick to their home or to a healthcare facility. If you are calling an ambulance or bringing someone to the hospital, try to call first to alert them that the person may have COVID-19. Close off areas used by a sick person and do not use these areas until after cleaning and disinfecting. Wait at least 24 hours before cleaning and disinfecting. If 24 hours is not feasible, wait as long as possible.

In accordance with state and local laws and regulations, school administrators should notify local health officials, staff, and families immediately of any case of COVID-19 while maintaining confidentiality in accordance with the Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA). Schools should inform those who have had close contact with a person diagnosed with COVID-19 to stay home and self-monitor for symptoms, and follow CDC guidance if symptoms develop.

COVID-19 is mostly spread by respiratory droplets released when people talk, cough, or sneeze. It is thought that the virus may spread to hands from a contaminated surface and then to the nose or mouth, causing infection. Therefore, personal prevention practices (such as handwashing, staying home when sick) and environmental cleaning and disinfection are important principles.

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Economy

Talladega will hold GEICO 500 on June 21 without fans in the stands

Brandon Moseley

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The National Association for Stock Car Auto Racing (NASCAR) has announced that the GEICO 500, MoneyLion 300 and General Tire 200 automobile races have all been rescheduled for the weekend of June 20 to 21.

They will be raced without fans in attendance.

“We are excited that NASCAR has announced the rescheduling of our April race weekend to June 20-21,” said Talladega Superspeedway President Brian Crichton. “While we will have cars on track, in the interest of the health and safety of all involved, including fans, NASCAR will be running our three races – the GEICO 500, MoneyLion 300 and General Tire 200 – without fans in attendance in accordance with the State of Alabama, CDC and public health agency standards and protocols.”

The Cup Series GEICO 500 will be held on Sunday, June at 2:00 pm CST.

The Xfinity series MoneyLion 300 will be held on Saturday, June 20 at 4:30 pm CST.

The ARCA series General Tire 200 will be held on Saturday, June 20, 2020 at 1:00 pm CST.

“NASCAR, like Talladega Superspeedway, prides itself in being fan-friendly, and the fans drive everything we do,” Crichton said. “The decision to race without fans is focused on the long-term health of you and our sport. NASCAR has a great respect for the responsibility that comes with a return to competition, and after thorough collaboration with public officials, medical experts and state and federal officials, NASCAR has implemented a comprehensive plan to ensure the health and safety of the competitors and surrounding communities.”

“For our June 20-21 events, we hope you will enjoy watching and listening to the 3- and 4-wide racing at the sport’s Biggest and Most Competitive track via our broadcast partners FOX, FS1 and MRN Radio,” Crichton concluded. “We will persevere through this together.”

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Ticketholders may elect to receive a credit for the full amount paid plus an additional 20 percent of total amount paid to apply towards a future event, including, but not limited to, grandstand seating, infield, camping, fan hospitality, and Talladega Garage Experience. The 120 percemt event credit can be used in a single transaction during the remainder of the 2020 season and entire 2021 season for a NASCAR sanctioned event at any NASCAR-owned track, subject to availability. Elections for an event credit or refund must be submitted by June 14, 2020.
Ticketholders may apply here:
https://www.talladegasuperspeedway.com/Vanity-Pages/2020/Assistance.aspx

Motorsports are the only major pro sports league that has resumed play after the coronavirus global pandemic struck in mid-March. The NBA is considering a proposal to playout the remainder of their season and playoffs sequestered at the Wide World of Sports complex at Disneyworld in Orlando, Florida with no fans present. The NHL is in the process of considering a similar proposal to finish this year’s hockey season. Major League Baseball has not played a single game of their season yet. MLB owners have made a proposal that the league play an 80 game season without fans present. The idea is meeting with skepticism from MLB players due to a controversial proposal capping players salaries for this season in a 50:50 revenue sharing agreement. The proposal that would dramatically reduce MLB players’ salaries for this season. Horse racing and mixed martial arts have held some sporting events in recent weeks.

NASCAR has already held two races at Darlington and one at Charlotte after resuming racing on May 17. Kevin Harvik won the Real Heroes 400 driving a Ford and Denny Hamlin won the Toyota 500 driving a Toyota in the first two Cup Series races since NASCAR resumed racing after a ten week hiatus. NASCAR intends to run a 36 race season this year.

Motorsports are the only major professional sports league played at a major league level in the state of Alabama. In addition to the Talladega Superspeedway, the state is also home to the Barber Motorsports Parks near Leeds. The Barber facility hosts both professional motorcycle racing and the Honda Indy Grand Prix of Alabama, a NTT Indycar series event. That event was cancelled due to efforts to shut down the economy to fight the spread of the coronavirus.

The COVID-19 global pandemic has already killed 98,705 Americans through Sunday morning.

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Economy

Alabama nonprofit hopes federal food aid for children continues through summer

Eddie Burkhalter

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Almost half of Alabamians experienced a loss in income since the COVID-19 crisis began, and more than 13 percent said they hadn’t had enough to eat during the prior week, according to a recent survey, but there is help for families with children struggling with food insecurity. 

Two federal programs combined can help keep Alabamians fed during coronavirus’s continued impact on health and finances, but there’s work to be done to ensure those programs are fully used, and will continue to help during this time of need, according to Alabama Arise, a nonprofit coalition of advocates focused on poverty. 

Celida Soto Garcia, Alabama Arise’s hunger advocacy coordinator, on Friday discussed the U.S. Department of Agriculture’s  Community Eligibility Provision (CEP), which allows schools with high poverty rates to serve breakfast and lunch to all students, regardless of a parent’s income. 

There are still a little more than 100 school systems in Alabama that would qualify under the program, but haven’t yet applied to do so, Garcia said. 

“Schools that had implemented CEP prior to the pandemic made it a lot easier to distribute food. They didn’t have to worry about eligibility and delayed distribution,” Garcia said. 

Garcia said the coronavirus crisis has brought attention to the CEP program and that some school board officials and child nutrition professionals are beginning to identify which school systems could qualify for the aid. 

“So that of course was a benefit prior to the pandemic, and now there’s just an increased need for it,” Garcia said. 

Carol Gundlach, a policy analyst at Alabama Arise, discussed with APR on Friday the pandemic Electronic Benefit program (P-EBT), which gives parents of children who receive free and reduced lunches a debit card loaded with value of each child’s school meals from March 18 to May 31. The cards can be used at any grocery store. 

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Immigrant families with children enrolled in school can also receive the P-EBT cards, Gundlach said. 

“We of course hope that Congress will see their way to continuing pandemic EBT for the remainder of this summer, because of course, children still have to eat, whether school is in or not, and families are still going to have to pay for those extra meals,” Gunlach said. 

Just more than 13 percent of Alabamians polled said they didn’t have enough to eat during the week prior, according to a survey by the U.S. Census Bureau, and 43 percent said they’d experienced a loss of income due to the COVID-19 crisis. 

“So clearly parents are going to have a very difficult time continuing to feed the whole family through the summer,” Gundlach said. “It’s really a serious crisis and continuing Pandemic EBT would make a really big difference.” 

Many individual school systems across the state are working hard to supply sack lunches to students in need, but without federal aid it will be hard to keep those meals coming all summer, Gundlach said. 

There was an expansion of P-EBT for the remainder of the summer, and a 15 percent increase in regular Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program benefits, known as food stamps, in the $3 trillion Heroes ACT, which Democrats in the U.S. House passed last week. Gundlach said she hopes the U.S. senators from Alabama get behind the Heroes Act. 

Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell, R-Kentuky, said last week, however, that if the Senate takes up another round of coronavirus relief legislation it won’t look like the House version, according to NBC News. 

Gundlach also wanted those without children to know that there’s additional food assistance available to them. 

The Family’s First Act temporarily suspended SNAP’s three-month time limit on benefits, and Gundlach said that even if a person was denied assistance before because they hit that time limit, they can reapply and receive that aid.

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Governor

Alabama AG warns against nursing homes taking stimulus checks

Eddie Burkhalter

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Alabama’s top law enforcement officer on Friday warned against nursing homes intercepting federal stimulus payments to long-term care residents who are Medicaid recipients, but the state’s Nursing Home Association says it’s not aware that is happening, and it hasn’t been contacted by the Alabama Attorney General’s Office over the matter. 

Alabama Attorney General Steve Marshall in a press release Friday said that federal stimulus checks from the CARES Act cannot be seized by nursing homes to pay for care. 

“We are now beginning to receive a few reports of concern that some Alabama nursing homes may be attempting to take stimulus checks from residents who are Medicaid recipients. If this is happening, it needs to stop now,” Marshall said in a statement. “These stimulus checks are rightfully and legally the property of the residents and must be returned. Confiscation of these checks is unlawful and should be reported to my office.”

Mike Lewis, spokesman for the state Attorney General’s Office, in a message to APR on Friday said that all concerns reported to the office will be reviewed and investigated.

“There have been four such reports thus far,” Lewis said in the message.

Alabama Nursing Home Association President Brandon Farmer in a separate press release Friday said that since the federal government’s announcement of the stimulus payment, the association advised members that any stimulus payment deposited to the accounts of nursing home residents was not to be used to reimburse the facility “and is the sole property of the residents.”

“We urge Attorney General Steve Marshall to let us know if he has any reports of diversion of residents’ stimulus payments so that we may clarify any misunderstanding that may exist,” Farmer said. “At this time, we are unaware of any facility where such diversion is occurring.

Farmer said the association has encouraged Marshall to contact them any time he has a concern about nursing homes, or has information he wants to pass along to our members.

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“As we have done throughout this pandemic, we stand ready to work with local, state and federal leaders to support Alabama’s nursing home residents and employees,” Farmer said.

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Economy

Jefferson County extends closure of night clubs, theaters and other entertainment venues

Chip Brownlee

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The Jefferson County Department of Health has extended closures of “high-risk” entertainment venues in the state’s most populous county as those types of businesses can begin opening in the rest of the state.

“Even though things have been opening up, it does not mean that things are better in our community in terms of the spread of COVID-19,” Jefferson County Health Officer Dr. Mark Wilson said Friday. “In fact, I would say it may be more dangerous now to let down your guard than it has been ever since this pandemic began.”

The extended closures in Jefferson County’s updated health order apply to night clubs, concert venues, theaters, performing arts centers, tourist attractions like museums and planetariums, racetracks, adult entertainment venues, casinos and bingo halls, among others.

“Other than those entertainment venues, this order is the same as the statewide order that was issued yesterday,” Wilson said.

Jefferson County’s order remains in place until June 6.

Gov. Kay Ivey’s amended safer-at-home order, issued Thursday, allows those businesses to reopen with social-distancing restrictions and sanitation requirements statewide.

“The reason we are doing this is that we are continuing to see increases in cases of COVID-19 per day in Jefferson County,” Wilson said. “They have been trending up since that last order was issued statewide on May 8.”

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Wilson said current COVID-19 hospitalizations have also increased from 103 to 130 since the state’s more restrictive stay-at-home and safer-at-home orders were lifted earlier this month.

“We want to stay ahead of it and not get to the point where they are overrun,” Wilson said.

In Montgomery County, hospitals are facing a dire shortage of intensive-care beds as cases there have more than doubled since the beginning of the month.

Jefferson County and Mobile County, which have their own autonomous health departments, have the authority to issue more stringent public health orders.

Wilson said he received approval from State Health Officer Dr. Scott Harris to issue the new order. The governor said Thursday that she would support Mobile and Jefferson County should the issue more stringent orders.

The Jefferson County health officer continued to encourage residents to wear face masks or another face covering while out in public.

“We all need to protect each other,” Wilson said.

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