- Associated Press - Monday, July 20, 2020

DENVER (AP) - Staggered schedules, face coverings, limited contact among students and the option of remote learning are just a few of the changes Colorado health and education officials recommended Monday as public school districts across the state prepare for the fall semester amid the coronavirus pandemic.

Katy Anthes, Colorado’s commissioner of education, said during a virtual news conference that the State Board of Education had met with health officials to create the guidelines, many of which are backed by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.

“We’re entering this very new territory. We’ve never had to start school in an environment like this,” she said. “And so what we’re trying to do is build guidance. … I know that we won’t be able to eliminate all risk, and we’re honest about that.”

Anthes and health officials recommended many practices that have become familiar during the pandemic, such as social distancing, wearing face coverings and sanitizing surfaces. But a busy school environment poses unique challenges, including isolating students in groups, or “cohorts,” to limit the spread of the disease.

Dr. Brian Erly, an epidemiologist for the Colorado Department of Public Health and Environment, said keeping students in such groups “is an essential component of our guidance.”

“We would not be recommending it so strongly if it wasn’t such an important mechanism of both controlling disease and minimizing disruption to the school environment,” Erly said.

He also tried to ease parents’ and teachers’ concerns by noting that COVID-19 doesn’t affect children the same way it does adults.

“It’s a truism in pediatrics that children are not just tiny adults. They respond to diseases differently in all sorts of ways,” he said. “In the case of COVID-19, especially for children under age 10, kids tend to get infected less, they have less extreme symptoms and are less likely to transmit the virus to others.”

For most people, the coronavirus causes mild or moderate symptoms, such as fever and cough. For some, especially older adults and people with existing health problems, it can cause more severe illness, including pneumonia, and death. The vast majority of people recover.

Anthes said much of the guidance issued Monday will be left to local health and education officials to implement.

“It allows for a local approach since we know that the virus is not prevalent in some areas,” she said. “Not all school buildings, schools and communities are the same, so educators need multiple strategies that they can interchange and layer to decrease the risk.”

Denver Public Schools already has announced it would delay the opening of fall semester by a week, starting with remote learning Aug. 24 and gradually transitioning to in-person classes Sept. 8 at the earliest.

“We have come to the determination that it would not be possible to open schools with the size of cohorts we’d been planning,” schools Superintendent Susana Cordova said.

District officials, the Board of Education and the teachers union met with local health experts before making the decision.

More than 40,000 people have tested positive for the coronavirus in Colorado, and more than 1,700 people have died with the disease, according to state health officials.

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