GPS & COVID-19 Update | June 1, 2020

Update on summer events and preparing for the fall
Dear GPS Community,

Facing the Future.

Planning for the 2020-21 school year has been challenging, to say the least. As the coronavirus has spread and evolved, so too has both our understanding of it and our strategies for responding to it.

While we work to design a dynamic engagement program for the fall, we know there are some important moments that still need our focus. Please continue to hold July 23 and 24 for our Class of 2020 May Day and Commencement. During the week of July 6, more definitive plans will be shared with our community. Additionally, please read your most recent Parent/Student Update for information about yearbook distribution planned for this Saturday, June 6. 

For months, a design team at GPS has been seeking the best medical guidance to develop a variety of options for reopening school this August. We understand that any plan we embrace today will need to be flexible enough to respond to changes that might develop over the summer months or once the school year begins.

Nevertheless, we want to share our current plan with you. We anticipate our first day of classes will be August 19, with the majority of students on campus. We will continue to follow CDC guidelines. In order to do so, we anticipate that modifications will need to be made. 
  • Physical distance will need to be maintained throughout the buildings. 
  • Temperatures will need to be taken daily. 
  • Face coverings will need to be worn; more details to come regarding specifications. 
  • Spaces will be disinfected often. 
  • Emphasis will be placed on personal hygiene with hand sanitizers and touchless faucets and fountains provided. 
We also anticipate that modifications will need to be made to the daily schedule and some activities in order to accommodate the above requirements. 

Regardless of how thorough our health and safety precautions are, we understand there may be students with existing medical conditions that will make returning to campus challenging. We also understand there may be families who are reluctant for their daughters to return to campus. It is our desire that all students feel physically and psychologically safe. If a parent chooses to have his/her daughter continue her studies off campus, the student will be provided with access and support to do so.

While we hope that it will not be necessary to return to off-campus learning or some variation of that, please know that we are prepared to respond quickly as is necessary to follow any new recommendations of the CDC

As we reflect on the past spring, we are encouraged by your responses to our survey about our distance learning efforts. As part of our current readiness planning, all faculty are involved in professional development activities to improve our online capabilities should the situation arise.

Over the summer, we will be providing additional details about schedules and procedures. In the meantime, know that we are actively planning for a meaningful and joyful educational experience for your daughters.

Please read below for additional details regarding plans for Athletics, COVID-19 FAQs, and more. 

Here’s the Girls!

Dr. Autumn A. Graves

Head of School

Dr. Kirk Walker
Interim Head of School, 2020-21


Dear Parents,

Over the last several weeks, GPS has developed a Return to Play Plan that will allow some of our girls to gradually return to campus for athletic training and workouts. When developing our plan, we consulted with leading organizations at the national, state, and local levels to ensure the safety of our athletes, our coaches, and their families. Our ability to begin many of our summer workouts has been dependent on clearance from the TSSAA, the Tennessee governor’s office, and Hamilton County Health Department. Last week, we received permission to open up most of our athletic facilities as long as a number of rules are followed with regard to health screening, physical distancing, and the total number of athletes involved.

Part of our protocols for this summer will involve your support and cooperation as we gradually allow our coaches and your daughters to return to campus. This will certainly not be a "typical” summer, from any perspective, and there are likely to be some changes and adaptations to our initial plans as we get closer to the start of the school year. We are still waiting for guidance from the TSSAA with regards to the start of fall sports and how COVID-19 will affect our plans for official tryouts, practices, and interscholastic competition.

There is a current Executive Order from the Governor of Tennessee that bans all contact sports until June 30. We are unlikely to have a clear image of what fall sports will really look like until that date. The order could be extended and, if it is, decisions would need to be made at that point about the potential for football and other contact sports. While obviously football is not one of our offerings, the TSSAA’s decision on its viability in the fall will have a domino effect on other activities.

Some sports will be allowed to do more this summer than others simply because of the nature of how and where they are played. Sports that are more conducive to following prescribed directives regarding physical distancing and limiting the sharing of equipment will be the easiest to restart. Please understand that our planning for each sport has considered the mechanics and unique behaviors of its participants. It is much easier to physically distance yourself and limit contact with others while playing golf and tennis, for example, than it is when playing basketball or volleyball. 

Here are the important points to pass on to each of you at this time:
  • We have established general Return to Play protocols for all sports. Each time your daughter comes to campus for a workout or training session, be prepared to fill out a form that assesses her current health status and readiness to interact with others in our community. While this step may seem redundant if your daughter is coming on a regular basis, it is a crucial piece for our mitigation of any possible spread of infectious disease.
  • Please do not allow your daughter to come to campus at a time when no coach will be present. This would include things that may have occurred in the past such as unsupervised friendly tennis matches, jogging around the track, or casual soccer play on one of our fields. Anyone who is on campus for training will have to complete a series of screening questions with a GPS coach before starting her activity.
  • We also request that you do not allow your daughter to carpool to campus with her friends or with other athletes in her neighborhood. While we realize this will be an added inconvenience for many of you, carpooling defeats the goals of physical distancing.
  • Our weight room will open for limited student use starting this week. Students who are interested in working with our head strength coach, Matt Green, should email him directly to receive more information about signup and participation protocols. Priority will be given to Upper School athletes with Middle School athletes allowed in the weight room based on remaining space.
  • Our outdoor sports will be allowed to begin training on campus this week. Indoor sports will be permitted to hold workouts with a limited number of athletes on June 8. At this time, we are limiting all training sessions to groups of 10 people or fewer, and that number includes the coaches present for each session. We will consider revising this number as we progress into the summer and get a better sense of the overall health situation in our county and surrounding areas.
It is important to note that our guidelines are for coaches and athletes who want to voluntarily return to campus to engage in athletic activity. No summer workout for GPS students will be required for participation during the school year.

Your daughter’s coach(es) will communicate if and when they will be holding any summer workouts in the coming weeks. Coach Green will communicate with our athletes who are interested in using our weight room.  I appreciate your patience as we work to restart our program safely and responsibly over the next few weeks. Please email me if you have any general questions about our new policies and procedures to allow GPS to slowly reopen the campus to our athletes.

Go Bruisers!
Jay Watts, CMAA
Director of Athletics

Answers to FAQs provided by Dr. Chris Benz Smith ’72, Director of the School of Nursing UTC, Chief Health Affairs Officer for UTC, the lead on the COVID-19 pandemic for UTC, and former GPS Chair of the Board of Trustees; and Dr. Allen Coffman, pediatrician at Highland Pediatrics, GPS Board of Trustees member, and the 2016 Pediatrician of the Year by the Tennessee Chapter of the American Academy of Pediatrics. Both Drs. Smith and Coffman are deeply involved at the local and state levels with managing through the health crisis as well as in establishing safe reopening practices.

The information provided here is meant to supplement but not substitute medical advice from your healthcare provider. 

Is COVID-19 more contagious than other infectious diseases?
Data suggest that the virus is actually spreading more efficiently than the flu, which makes it more concerning. However, it’s not nearly as efficient as measles, which is very, very contagious where one person can infect 18 (this is called the R0 or R naught value), or chicken pox (varicella) where one person can infect 12 others. When a virus is able to infect more than one other person from an infected host, that virus has the potential to cause an uncontrolled pandemic. The 1918 Spanish Flu pandemic that killed millions, had a rate of spread of 1.4 to 2.8 infected individuals from one host. The early studies of COVID-19 have calculated an R0 rate of 2.2 to 5 under normal social conditions.

It is possible for COVID-19 to spread in other ways, we think. There have been questions about contracting the virus by touching surfaces or objects where the virus resides, which may be possible, but only a viable live virus can infect us. If someone has sneezed on the table, and we haven’t disinfected or touched it for two or three days, the virus is no longer viable. Touching a surface and then touching your face will not necessarily spread the virus in this instance  since dead viruses are not considered infectious.

Isn’t COVID-19 a simple virus, like a common cold or the flu?
First, COVID-19 is 2-5 times more contagious than influenza. Second the fatality rate is 5-10 times as high and may end up being much higher than that in those over 65 years of age and those with heart disease, obesity, hypertension, and chronic lung disease. Finally, this virus seems to induce a devastating immune storm in some people of all ages. This immune reaction causes catastrophic organ injury and high rate of clotting and pulmonary embolism/strokes.

Why does physical distancing matter?
Anytime we are close to someone who coughs, sneezes, or talks or breathes heavily, their respiratory droplets can actually land on our face, in our mouth, and in our noses. The reason we do face coverings and physical distancing is the virus has spread mainly from person to person, and at this time we think  it is difficult to spread farther than six feet, especially when an infected individual is asymptomatic.

Why is there a difference between inside and outside with regards to exposure to COVID-19?
The virus is thought to be spread by heavy respiratory droplets that fall to the ground quickly. This spread is limited and dispersed by higher air flow. Stagnant, poorly ventilated rooms enable more exposure to these virus-carrying droplets. Outside, these droplets are dispersed quickly. We anticipate changes in recommendations for public commercial ventilation that increase air flow and push droplets to the ground more quickly.

Are certain school activities higher risk than others?
Singing in close company like a choir or in a church service has shown to be highly effective in widespread infection. This is because of the generation of more respiratory droplets and the forceful expiration of those droplets over greater distances. Screaming, yelling, weight lifting, and aerobic activity have all been shown to create larger areas of potential contamination. There is some promising data that face shields that cover the eyes, face, and ears may protect athletes and performers in situations that would be difficult to wear a mask while doing.

Does wearing a face covering help?
Wearing a 3-ply cloth face covering is recommended whenever you’re out among others, but do not use a face covering that is considered necessary for those who are in health care, like surgical masks or  N95s. We need to reserve those for healthcare providers. When physical distancing is impossible, your face covering needs to fit snugly and comfortably and be secured with loops or ties. Multiple layers of fabric allow for breathing. It should be laundered and machine dried when it becomes dirty; the recommendation is daily.

Children ages two and under are not recommended to wear facemasks. Children and adults who will continually touch, drop, or manipulate their facemask should not wear a face mask. Also neuroatypical children often will not tolerate wearing a face mask or having a trusted caregiver wear a mask.

What else helps prevent contracting the virus?
Again, make sure you stay away from others when possible, even if you or they have no symptoms. Physical distancing is especially important for those people who are at high risk for severe illness, such as those over 65, those who have chronic illnesses or a compromised immune system, and those who have to care for others. Also wash your hands with soap and water for 20 seconds, especially after you have been in a public place, after you've been coughing or sneezing, or you had to blow your nose. If soap and water are unavailable, then use hand sanitizer that is at least 60% alcohol. Cover all surfaces of your hands and rub them together until they feel dry. Washing hands still remains the most active strategy in order to avoid transmitting this to others.

Avoid touching your eyes, nose, and mouth and avoid close contact with people who are sick, even in your own home. Don't gather in groups, stay out of crowded places, avoid mass gatherings, and have your groceries delivered or use curbside pickup.

Disinfect surfaces that are frequently touched such as cell phones, keyboards, light switches, tables, countertops, toilets, faucets, doorknobs—anything else you touch daily.

What if I or someone I live with develops symptoms?
We all know these symptoms: fever of 100.4 or higher, cough, fatigue, shortness of breath, difficulty breathing, chills, muscle pain, sore throat, new loss of taste or smell, and then GI symptoms—nausea, vomiting, diarrhea. If symptoms develop, take your temperature but not within 30 minutes of exercising or using ibuprofen or Tylenol. If you have symptoms and you want to get tested, first stay home and call your healthcare provider. Tell him or her your symptoms and if you’ve knowingly been exposed to someone with COVID-19. You will probably be advised to stay home, monitor your symptoms, and then report in frequently. If you are advised to seek testing, your provider will suggest where. The test for the virus is a nasopharyngeal swab that goes through your nose to the back of your throat where the virus tends to like to exist. Then it is placed in a medium and sent to a lab to check to see if the virus is present. Results should take one to two days. If you test positive, monitor your symptoms, don't go into public places, take care of yourself, rest, stay hydrated, and take over-the-counter medication such as Tylenol or ibuprofen to help you feel better. Stay in touch with your healthcare provider and avoid public transportation—don’t take an Uber to get tested.

If you are sick, all members of your household, with whom you have contact, should remain home until COVID-19 testing results are known. If the test is positive, all contacts should remain home and notify their physicians.

Is there a test for the antibody?
For the most part, test results for COVID-19 are fairly accurate.  The nasal swab which only tests for the virus has become more accurate over time. Where we are running into problems is antibody testing which has been developed fairly quickly. Unfortunately, the accuracy is not 100% at this time but progress is being made. Due to this inconsistency, providers have to be very careful when looking at the results. It usually takes about two to three weeks before you have enough antibodies to be detected in the blood, so depending on the time of the illness and the recovery, these will impact whether the antibodies are present at a high enough level to be measured when you are tested. You won’t want to be tested for antibodies until you have fully recovered, so you may not know about your immune status for several  weeks. The persistence and the utility of the antibodies is currently not fully understood.  It does seem that those who have actually recovered from COVID-19 may be able to donate convalescent plasma to those who are COVID-19+.  It is an experimental treatment, but the antibodies from those who are well from COVID-19 appear to slow the disease in those who are very ill. It is not clear if antibodies persist, like the response to the measles, or fade over several months like the flu.

Is getting a flu shot important?
Federal health officials and the CDC agree that it’s important to control the spread of influenza now more than ever. For practical reasons, you need to get a flu shot to do everything you can to keep yourself healthy and out of the hospital. We strongly suggest that everyone on the GPS campus get a flu shot as soon as they’re available in August and September and to get your flu shot by the middle of September or October at the latest. This allows your body ample time to create those protective antibodies.

Will there be a COVID-19 vaccine soon?
The University of Pittsburgh School of Medicine recently announced they are working on a  vaccine that’s been tested in mice that seemed to be very effective in producing antibodies for SARS-CoV-2 in quantities high enough thought to neutralize the virus. They have developed a really interesting delivery system, where a fingertip-sized patch of about 400 tiny needles is used to directly deliver the vaccine into the skin using microneedles. These needles are made of sugar and protein spikes and once in the skin, they  disintegrate. It is only one of the vaccines in development. Researchers across the globe are working to find an effective vaccine, but it is uncertain whether we will have one ready by the end of the year. Some do think January 2021 is a realistic date. This date relies on the development and success of a novel type of vaccine, fast tracking of critical safety testing, new production methods, a reworking of production supply chains, and a highly efficient and well-managed public health vaccine campaign. The odds of all of those things happening are very low. The last viral vaccine developed was the varicella or chickenpox vaccine; it took 10 years to develop and test. Stay tuned!

How will GPS handle the return of school with physical distancing?
We are going to do the same thing that we all have done: we're going to limit the physical closeness of our students. Those who are performers and are athletes will avoid touching or sharing equipment, gear, or instruments or supplies. For example, if a student has a lesson on the piano, before the student comes in and between uses, we will disinfect it and wipe it down. If someone needs to use the same bat for softball, it will be wiped down so the next girl can use it. We will engage in physical distancing while not actively engaged in classes or athletic events or rehearsals. We will make sure that we have six feet between people. We will have reminders that we need to be paying attention to this, which might include signage at entrances, arrows on the floor, etc. We will have reminders for people to clean their laptops and cell phones. We will have to change the culture of our school to keep them aware of healthy habits.

We're pretty lucky because our youngest students are around 11 or 12, so it’s easier—at least it should be easier—than teaching really young children the importance of keeping face coverings on and keeping hands clean. We do know that since girls are relational and tend to want to be close to each other, there will be challenges for them to keep physically distant. So we are looking at classroom sizes and keeping non-essential visitors and spectators off campus unless absolutely necessary.

Director of Athletics Jay Watts is staying informed by the TSSAA and looking to the guidelines for athletic events beginning this fall that will follow best practices outlined by the governor as well as the CDC and local health officials.

How will staff and teachers monitor and enforce face coverings, social distancing, good hygiene, and responsible staying at home when sick in 11- to 19-year-olds?
Of these measures, staying at home when sick, identifying girls with new symptoms at school, and limiting exposure to others are the most important. Good hygiene comes next. Social distancing is third, and face coverings are last. Many students are getting very mixed messaging in regards to all of these measures.

The students are all developmentally binary and rigid for the most part. The functional rules and practices of the school in regards to infection control should be clear and simple. They should be well thought out ahead of time. These need to be communicated clearly and regularly with the girls and their parents. The fluidity of the school’s understanding of the virus and the changes possible in the local community should be regularly communicated along with the expectation of changes to school policy.

It is very important to build strong ideas for girls in how these measures benefit them. Repetition and peer pressure to build compliance with infection control measures will build success. A well-informed understanding of why these measures are important and how they will increase the chances that school will go on more normally (and each girl and her friends will also have a higher chance of not getting sick) will be a strong motivator. School pride in limiting spread at GPS, low numbers of schoolmates infected, and a more normal school year should be built as sources of pride for the girls, faculty, and staff.

What are concrete measures the school can use to evaluate the local Chattanooga conditions for COVID-19?
The local active case rate (5 day lag), the hospitalized rate (2 week lag), the ICU bed rate (3 week lag) and the death rate (4 week lag) are all pragmatic measures of the local caseload. This information can be found at Tennessee COVID-19 updateCOVID-19 in Hamilton County, TN, or Coronavirus (COVID-19). A two week decrease in any of those metrics would suggest a decrease in local cases. The real difficulty has been the economic and political challenges to be that patient, the lack of local testing capacity, and the impact of the virus in sections of the community that have poor access to health care. It is also difficult to assess because, in a community our size, the impact of the virus invading a workplace, neighborhood, or institution with more higher-risk individuals can rapidly increase these specific metrics.

The website COVIDActNow is a project of George Washington University and Stanford that attempts to use local data to calculate the current R0 (R naught) under the local restrictive social measures. If the current R0 is 1 or lower, the community spread is decreasing and the local case rates would approach zero. If the R0 is above 1 (R0 was 1.4 for Hamilton County as of May 31, 2020), then the virus infection rate in the community is expanding.

Is it safe to go to the pediatrician office to get school shots or school/sports physicals?
There has been a steep decline in routine vaccines during the first few months of the COVID-19 pandemic. Some physicians are concerned we may also start to see new outbreaks of vaccine-preventable conditions such as measles, pertussis, mumps, and Neisseria meningitidis. All pediatric offices have implemented standard cleaning and exposure-limiting protocols to protect patients from exposure to ill patients. It is safe to visit local pediatric and family practice offices. Patients’ families should contact the physician to review the infection control procedures at that office.

Visit for up-to-date information and announcements.