With President Donald Trump calling for campuses to welcome students in the fall and numerous large school districts around the country announcing that online-only schooling will continue, risk management teams are grappling with how to safely proceed amid the coronavirus pandemic.

While various studies have found that most children are minimally affected when they contract COVID-19, the safety of teachers and other school workers is a growing concern.

The political controversy over school openings is taking place against a backdrop of surging infection rates in some regions and decisions by some states to dial back to previous shutdown levels.

The U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention on May 19 issued guidance to schools, which includes social distancing and cleaning protocols, but teachers unions have argued that the guidance may not be practical or is cost-prohibitive for already strapped school systems.

For example, the CDC’s call for improved ventilation systems in schools poses a challenge, because many schools have outdated systems, said Heather Sorge, campaign organizer for Healthy Schools Now, an initiative of the New Jersey Work Environment Council in Trenton, which on Thursday released a statement calling for more guidance and resources.

“By their nature, schools are an environment conducive to the spread of illnesses, including COVID-19,” the statement reads. “They are densely occupied for long periods and have a well-documented history of deferred maintenance which has resulted in well-known problems with ventilation and indoor air and plumbing, and challenges in cleaning.”

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