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Development of the systematic observation of COVID-19 mitigation (SOCOM): Assessing face covering and distancing in schools.



During the COVID-19 pandemic, some K-12 schools resumed in-person classes with varying degrees of mitigation plans in the fall 2020. Physical distancing and face coverings can minimize SARS-CoV-2 spread, the virus that causes COVID-19. However, no research has focused on adherence to mitigation strategies during school days. Thus, we sought to develop a systematic observation protocol to capture COVID-19 mitigation strategy adherence in school environments: The Systematic Observation of COVID-19 Mitigation (SOCOM).


We extended previously validated and internationally used tools to develop the SOCOM training and implementation protocols to assess physical-distancing and face-covering behaviors. SOCOM was tested in diverse indoor and outdoor settings (classrooms, lunchrooms, physical education [PE], and recess) among diverse schools (elementary, secondary, and special needs).


For the unique metrics of physical-distancing and face-covering behaviors, areas with less activity and a maximum of 10-15 students were more favorable for accurately capturing data. Overall proportion of agreement was high for physical distancing (90.9%), face covering (88.6%), activity type (89.2%), and physical activity level (87.9%). Agreement was lowest during active recess, PE, and observation areas with ≥20 students.


Millions of children throughout the USA are likely to return to school in the months ahead. SOCOM is a relatively inexpensive research tool that can be implemented by schools to determine mitigation strategy adherence and to assess protocols that allow students return to school safely and slow the spread of COVID-19.

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