By Emmanuel Okiri

Ongoing school preparations for opening amidst the Coronavirus pandemic have been aided by the new WHO Checklist which notes 38 essential actions to be considered by different stakeholders as they work together to agree on school reopening plans.

Schools are reopening as infection numbers continue soaring. However, the WHO checklist aims to support the various levels of decision-making (national, local, and the schools themselves) that are needed to reopen schools safely.

The checklist also aims to help improve adherence to existing COVID-19-related national health and social measures designed to secure children under the age of 18 years in classroom settings.

“Schools can reopen safely,” says Dr. Ruediger Krech, WHO Director of Health Promotion. “Decisions to reopen schools should be prompted by data and the safety measures in place, but also address the concerns of students, parents, caregivers, and teachers. These concerns are best addressed if reopening approaches are co-designed with students, parents, caregivers, and teachers.”

Developed in accordance with the health-promoting school’s principles, the checklist aims to enhance compliance and adherence to the public health measures outlined in the recently updated Considerations for school-related public health measures in the context of COVID19.

It focuses on precautionary measures like hand hygiene and respiratory etiquette; physical distancing; the use of masks in schools; environmental cleaning and ventilation; and respecting procedures for isolation of all people with symptoms.

Of the 38 essential actions, 21 focus on individual school-level measures to ensure the school returns to equitable and decent education while safeguarding the health and well-being of all students.

Some of these school-level actions include reorganizing school layouts to space desks or changing school schedules to stagger recesses and breaks, depending on the local context.

There is one set of action to prepare to reopen schools and another to prepare schools for COVID-19 resurgences.

WHO has encouraged active engagement with concerned stakeholders – including students, parents, and caregivers – in all decisions that impact their lives, families, safety, and education. Students can be key allies in consolidating efforts and reinforcing or amplifying public health messages.

The actions specific to preparing for COVID-19 resurgences aim to support schools to design plans, protocols, and training in anticipation of potential resurgences that might result in a recloser, like increased transmission and/or prevalence of COVID-19-related illness or hospitalizations following a period of cessation or interruption.

The checklist is unintended to suggest either a uniform or all-or-nothing approach. Users are urged to constantly adapt the checklist and specific actions or combinations of actions in accordance with the changing local social, epidemiological, economic, and cultural contexts.

The checklist was developed by WHO, in collaboration with UNESCO, the World Food Programme, UNICEF, and members from the health-promoting schools expert performing group.