WESTFIELD, NJ — Under New Jersey guidelines, public schools are required to provide an isolation area to place a child in should they show symptoms of COVID-19.
The state guidelines, however, do not detail what barriers must be in place for such spaces, said Megan Avallone, director of the Westfield Regional Health Department, which has been working with public schools in its eight-town coverage area as school districts plan for reopening in the fall.
“What are the actual requirements? Is a shower curtain enough?” Avallone asked at an online meeting of the Westfield Board of Health Monday. This is just one example, she said, of how the state’s guidance for school districts and health departments has been too vague.
Avallone expressed her concern just over four weeks from local districts’ anticipated opening and on the same day the Westfield Board of Education detailed plans for reopening in the fall.
Avallone, who in her capacity as the president of the New Jersey Association of County and City Health Officials was set to testify before a state Assembly Health Committee on the topic of school openings Tuesday, told the local Board of Health her department is advising districts with the limited information it has.
“We need to fill a void,” she said.
While Gov. Phil Murphy has said that schools must provide remote learning options for all students, he has left it to local districts to develop individual plans. Avallone said implementation of those plans must be based on more than what is going on inside the schools themselves.
“You can’t just look at numbers inside a school,” she said. “A school’s a part of a community, so we really need to look at how things look community-wide, town-wide, county-wide.”
Local Health departments, she said, are anticipating the state will offer more specifics setting forth in what situations school districts would shut down in-person learning. But Avallone is concerned that by not yet issuing that guidance the state is not giving local health departments and schools enough time to plan.
“We’re four weeks away from the start of school and that guidance document has not been released yet,” Avallone said. “But that is one one of the things we have been crystal clear about. We need it. Schools need it. Parents need it.”
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