Schools will need to make these changes to protect students from coronavirus, expert says

Mason Wise, left, helps his sister Mackenzie, clean out her locker at El Camino Real Charter High School on April 30, in Woodland Hills, California. By Faith Karimi, CNN

(CNN) -- When students finally return to school, sweeping changes will be in place to help stop the spread of coronavirus.

Items such as masks and hand sanitizer will be familiar sights in stuffed backpacks. Classes and school buses will have fewer people while some office meetings will be conducted by video conference, experts say.

Although school districts will be looking to the American Academy of Pediatrics (AAP) and the US Centers for Disease Control and Prevention for guidelines, schools must keep the virus from entering campuses.

That will mean health checks, temperature screenings, staggered arrivals and limiting visitors on campus, Dr. Tanya Altmann, a spokeswoman for the American Academy of Pediatrics, said at the CNN coronavirus town hall Thursday night.

Children with underlying health conditions are especially vulnerable, and it's crucial that people follow rules to keep everyone safe, Altmann said. She shared other things US schools must address before unlatching their doors.

Reducing person-to-person transmission in schools will be a priority, and educators will have to set up smaller classrooms, shut down commonly touched areas, ensure constant hand washing and disinfecting, and avoid sharing supplies, she said.

When students get sick, they'll have to be quickly ushered out of schools.

"We need to quickly test them, diagnose, isolate and then contact trace, which is a lot easier when there's fewer kids they've come into contact with throughout the day," Altmann added.

Experts have also expressed fears about the toll the pandemic will have on the mental health of children.

"We're going to have a mental health epidemic among our children in this country," Geoffrey Canada, president of Harlem Children's Zone, said during the town hall. " ... The poorest kids, they know people who died, they know people who are sick. The very air you breathe, the people you pass on the street are suddenly dangerous to you.

All of that trauma is going to come into our schools and into our classrooms, and we really need to prepare for this."

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