Hawaii health department updates school reopening guidance

HONOLULU (AP) — The Hawaii Department of Health released updated guidance for operating schools during the coronavirus pandemic that more closely aligns the state with federal guidelines.

The recommendations released Monday also more closely match new tiered reopening plans at the county level, The Honolulu Star-Advertiser reported Tuesday.

The guidance includes thresholds for when public and private schools can shift from distance learning to in-person instruction, or a mix of both, based on average rates of new daily virus cases over two weeks and the positive test rate on each island.

The most recent data indicate Oahu and the Big Island could operate “blended learning” systems that combine in-person and online instruction, while rates on other islands were low enough to allow full in-person instruction.

Health officials stressed the importance of each school's preparation to ensure physical distancing, mask wearing, good cleaning practices and reducing contact by dividing students and staff into groups.

“The core considerations for schools — the measures schools must take to prevent spread of disease — have not changed and remain the most important part of any school’s preparations to open for in-­person learning and their response to COVID-19,” said Dr. Sarah Kemble, acting state epidemiologist.

Any shifts in guidance would be based on trends throughout the state and what happens at individual schools, she said.

“The ability to track the measures in real time allows schools to look ahead and plan more actively for learning model changes, but the idea is to base an actual change in learning model on at least two weeks of data,” Kemble said.

For most people, the new 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 more severe illness, including pneumonia, and death.