School hallway and lockers

TRENTON, N.J. - The New Jersey Department of Health released recommendations Thursday aimed at helping schools decide the best way to reopen amid the coronavirus pandemic.

Since COVID-19 may affect certain areas of the state differently, the state will provide data to six regions of the state to inform local decisions, Health Commissioner Judith Persichilli said in a statement.

Regions:

  1. Northwest: Morris, Passaic, Sussex, Warren
  2. Northeast: Bergen, Essex, Hudson
  3. Central West: Hunterdon, Mercer, Somerset
  4. Central East: Middlesex, Monmouth, Ocean, Union
  5. Southwest: Burlington, Camden, Gloucester, Salem
  6. Southeast: Atlantic, Cape May, Cumberland

Every week, beginning this week, the state Department of Health will be providing information on COVID-19 transmission at the regional level, according to a New Jersey Department of Health news release. The state will assign each region a category which characterizes the risk as low (green), moderate (yellow), high (orange), and very high (red). When regions are in the red category, it is recommended that they implement fully remote learning. The information will be posted online on the Department’s website.

Where a region falls in the color-coding categories is based on three criteria: number of cases in past week, percent positivity in the past week and syndromic surveillance in the past week. 

Schools in other risk levels should consult with their local health departments, according to the release.

The recommendations released Thursday also provide information about length of school exclusion, the role of testing and steps to take to respond to suspected and known positive students in schools and outbreaks identified in schools.

The state Department of Health says schools should implement protocols requiring staff and students to stay home when sick or if they have been in close contact with someone with COVID-19 in the past 14 days. School administrators should be notified of illness.

Schools should also develop a policy for daily symptom screening for students and staff, and have plans for students and staff to report symptoms that develop during the day, according to the Department of Health News release. Schools should identify rapid testing resources when staff and students develop COVID-19 symptoms, according to the release.

The state says schools should:

Clean and disinfect frequently touched surfaces at least daily

Ensure adequate hand hygiene supplies are available

Implement physical distancing measures such as reducing occupancy, installation of partitions and physical barriers, and cancelling large gatherings

Implement source control through wearing face covering

Regional risk levels are just one tool that local health departments (LHDs) and schools can use when assessing COVID-19 risk. Local health departments have additional knowledge of COVID-19 in their jurisdictions that can inform local planning and response actions.

Local health departments should maintain close communication with school officials in their community to provide information and share resources on COVID-19 transmission, prevention, and control measures and to establish procedures for LHD notification and response to COVID-19 illness in school settings. LHDs should identify a designated point of contact within each school that will be responsible for coordinating COVID-19 response with local public health authorities.

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