Cohorting in the classroom: method designed to minimize COVID-19 exposure

WCHD Dr. Sandra Martell explains cohorting
Published: Aug. 18, 2020 at 5:25 PM CDT
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ROCKFORD, Ill. (WIFR) - School is already either here or is right around the corner. Boone and Winnebago County schools will utilize forms of cohorting to reduce potential COVID-19 exposure. The method is designed to prevent a widespread outbreak and ensure those at a higher risk can quarantine.

“We are minimizing the risk, the risk is not zero,” reminds Winnebago County Health Department’s Dr. Sandra Martell Tuesday. Cohorting is also suggested by the CDC.

“That means that we’ve got small group size, classrooms of 20-25 with a teacher and potentially the aid,” says Martell.

Cohorting means those small classes or ‘pods’ will act as a group. Students and staff in each group or class will learn, eat lunch, play and use the washroom together. Groups will not interact with other groups. For example, if one student gets COVID-19 then the entire group containing that student will need to quarantine, and switch to remote learning for two weeks. However, if properly cohorted other classes should not need to quarantine or face any disruption because there was not interaction with the sick individual’s group.

If a school does not cohort and one person gets sick, the entire school could risk exposure and a quarantine.

At the secondary level students may all be in the hallway at one time during passing periods. Doctor Martell says the risk of exposure during this time is not necessarily high.

“Exposure is not a function of being in a place. It’s a function of time and duration,” says Martell. “In high school with class changing periods the average class changing time period is now about seven minutes. That’s well below the threshold of 15 minutes within six feet of social distancing. They will be wearing masks. They will not be permitted to go to their lockers. Really it’s to avoid congregating in the hallways.”

It’s also likely buses will have assigned seats, and leaders will pair siblings together.

“If we know where children are seated we know who is within that six feet in front, six feet behind and six feet to the side,” says Martell. “The idea being we will never exceed the capacity of a group size of 50.”

Martell says while schools and teachers work to cohort, she wants parents to do the same on the weekends, and minimize their child’s potential exposure.

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