Since the beginning of the COVID-19 pandemic, officials from Regional Health Command Europe have been working closely with officials from Department of Defense Education Activity Europe to help ensure DODEA schools are safe places to learn and work.
Some 25,000 children attend DODEA schools throughout Europe, and there are roughly 3,500 employees who work in those schools.
“RHCE maintains close liaison with DODEA Europe on COVID-19 matters,” said Col. Scott Mower, force health protection officer for RHCE. “We have been hosting two weekly teleconferences — one between joint public health authorities and senior DODEA Europe leadership and a second between public health authorities and school nurses.”
According to Mower, the primary purpose of the leadership teleconference is to refine COVID-19 outbreak response/prevention policies and procedural improvements. The nurse teleconference seeks to resolve local issues, discuss lessons learned from each school and encourage dialogue between nurses, preventive/family medicine physicians, public health emergency officers and public health nurses.
“Here at DODEA, our expertise lies in educating children,” said Dr. Charles Kelker, chief of staff for DODEA Europe. “We are by no means the experts in public health. We rely on Regional Health Command Europe to advise us on what we need to be doing to minimize the health risks to our students and employees.”
According to Kelker, DODEA has robust guidelines and protocols in place that mirror the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention recommendations for schools to remain safe and healthy.
“If you were to walk through one of our schools right now, you would see that the flow of the school has adjusted to maintain physical distancing whenever possible,” said Kelker.
Kelker added that students and teachers wear masks when they move around the school or are unable to maintain physical distancing. Hand sanitizer stations and cleaning wipes are readily available, and both students and employees are actively engaged in keeping spaces cleaned.
“We also really want to encourage parents to keep sick kids home,” said Kelker. “Our teachers are prepared to work with their students to keep them caught up if they have to miss a few days of school. Taking a little extra time at home to ensure your student is healthy before sending them back will not hinder them at all, and it will help keep the school, as a whole, healthy.”
Mower emphasized the importance of following the advice that’s been given since the start of the pandemic.
“Take everyday preventive actions to stop the spread of germs, like frequent hand-washing, avoiding contact with sick people, practicing good social distancing, and staying home if you are sick,” said Mower.