‘Outdoors is safer than indoors’ for school lunch, says local health officer

Aug 27, 2021, 2:58 PM | Updated: 3:04 pm
school lunch...
A masked student walks past the cafeteria door after eating a socially distanced lunch at Medora Elementary School on March 17, 2021, in Louisville, Kentucky. (Photo by Jon Cherry/Getty Images)
(Photo by Jon Cherry/Getty Images)

Students in King County — and across Washington — are starting to return to school in the coming days and weeks. With the more contagious delta variant widespread in the community, King County Health Officer Dr. Jeff Duchin warns that return will be more challenging than ever.

Virologist says it’s ‘not abusive or cruel’ for kids to wear masks at school

Dr. Duchin emphasized the importance of a layered approach with multiple precautions to reduce the risk of transmission at schools.

“First and foremost, the layered approach starts with vaccination. Everyone 12 and older should get vaccinated — students who are 12 and older, school faculty, staff, and family members. Community members as well can do their part in protecting our children by getting vaccinated,” he said.

Duchin also mentioned that he’s hopeful a vaccine for children ages 5-11 could be available by the end of the year, and for younger children after that, “but that is not established at this point.”

For school and child care facilities, the state Department of Health has developed requirements to help reduce the risk for COVID-19 transmission, which includes maintaining 3 feet of distance or more when possible and maximizing that distance during high-risk activities like meals, singing, and sports.

“The state reminds us that when it is not possible to maintain at least 3 feet of physical distance in classrooms, it is essential that schools layer additional prevention strategies to reduce the risk of disease transmission. This includes things like improving ventilation — and that is critical — and conducting screening testing of students and staff to identify infections early on before spread occurs,” Duchin said.

Additionally, in Washington, all students and staff 5 years and older are required to wear a mask and stay as distanced as possible.

But there’s one question a lot of parents have been concerned about: What happens at lunch?

Dr. Duchin says “outdoors is safer than indoors.”

“Whenever possible, when students are unmasked, they should be outdoors. Or if that’s absolutely not possible, they should be in an indoor location, adequately distanced, with appropriate ventilation measures in place or air filtration to maximally reduce that risk,” he said.

Seattle parents push for schools to move student lunches outdoors

As far as mandates, Duchin says the governor and the state develop the requirements for schools and he is not aware that they’re considering a mandate for outdoor lunch or eating.

“But it is a recommendation,” he added.

Aside from ensuring that high-risk activities, like school lunch, are outdoors when possible, distancing is in place, indoor air quality is improved, and kids have a quality mask, it’s also hopefully quick.

“If there’s an option for the child to eat quickly and get out to another place that’s considered to be safer or put the mask back on quickly afterward, I think that would be a potential option as well,” Duchin noted.

Public Health — Seattle & King County offers more back-to-school guidance and information on the best masks for children here.

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‘Outdoors is safer than indoors’ for school lunch, says local health officer