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Gov. Jared Polis says coronavirus contingency plans are key for schools to reopen

Gov. Jared Polis said strategies for preventing outbreaks include staggering lunch, recreation and hallway use times and keeping classroom students together as a body as much as possible

Roberto Castillo, left, and Asiyiah Cardenas join fellow students in learning fact strategies with addition and subtraction in Barbara Haggerty's third grade classroom. (Kathryn Scott, Special to The Colorado Sun)

Colorado’s public schools will need to be flexible about reopening classroom instruction this fall by keeping remote learning options available for students at schools that have coronavirus outbreaks, the governor and the state’s chief epidemiologist told the education board Monday.

Colorado is gradually reopening its economy after a stay-at-home order helped slow the spread of the virus, and school districts can offer computer instruction this summer at facilities with proper social distancing. But, Gov. Jared Polis warned, “the truth is that nobody knows where we will be in August or September,” when schools reopen.

“Most likely, most schools are back already in a normal way and largely in a regular fashion,” the Democratic governor told the State Board of Education.

COVID-19 IN COLORADO

The latest from the coronavirus outbreak in Colorado:

  • MAP: Cases and deaths in Colorado.
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  • VACCINE HOTLINE: Get up-to-date information.

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Contingency planning is key, he said. A classroom or school outbreak will require isolation of students and staff they’ve been in contact with. Everyone will be tested before they can return.

Polis said strategies for preventing outbreaks include staggering lunch, recreation and hallway use times and keeping classroom students together as a body as much as possible.

Special precautions must be taken for staff 60 and over, epidemiologist Dr. Rachel Herlihy emphasized, especially since most children with the virus are asymptomatic or have mild symptoms. Colorado adults age 60 and older are 21% of the state’s population but account for 50% of coronavirus hospitalizations and 90% of deaths caused by the virus. Districts should allow older staff to have the opportunity to teach remotely, they said.

More than 1,300 people have died of the virus and more than 4,800 have been hospitalized, the state health department says. Colorado has seen more than 28,000 cases.

For most people, the coronavirus causes mild or moderate symptoms such as fever and cough that clear up in two to three weeks. For some, especially older adults and people with existing health problems, it can cause pneumonia and death.

On May 26, the Department of Education released draft guidance to help individual school districts in their planning for the 2020-21 school year.

Also Monday, Polis sent a letter to Dr. Robert Redfield, director of the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, requesting help to ensure the state can accommodate anticipated hospitalizations both from the pandemic and the upcoming flu season.