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Returning to In-Person Troop Meetings and Activities Interim COVID-19 Guidance for Volunteers

This guidance is current as of February 3, 2021, a point at which a COVID-19 vaccine is not available to the majority of the population. Girl Scouts of the Southern Appalachians may modify this guidance from time to time as circumstances change.

COVID-19 is an extremely contagious virus that spreads easily in the community. All of our members and families should take all reasonable precautions to limit potential exposure for girls, volunteers, and families. The Girl Scout Council of Southern Appalachians may modify this guidance from time to time, as the pandemic circumstances and related public health guidance change.

The COVID-19 pandemic continues to change as infection rates rise and fall in different areas. There may be regional differences or developments since this guidance was published. Continue to follow local and state public health and national CDC directives at all times.   

Use these questions and reminders to help decide how and when to return to troop activities.

Pre-Screening and Symptoms Check Before Any Girl Scout In-Person Events

Prior to in-person Girl Scout meetings and activities, all participants should be screened to ensure the following:

  • Free from infectious illnesses
  • Have no symptoms that are associated with COVID-19 in the previous 48-72 hours
  • Have not knowingly been in recent close contact with someone who has exhibited symptoms or has been confirmed positive with COVID-19
  • Have not been told to quarantine or isolate by a medical provider or public health official
  • Have not been to high risk geographical regions particularly those regions that require a quarantine period.

The CDC’s most current definitions of a close contact should always be considered.

If an attendee answers a question that would indicate a likelihood or a known possibility that she or her could be a carrier of the virus, that person should be asked not to attend the gathering.

Finally, please be sensitive to the fact that girls may be experiencing symptoms that are similar but completely unrelated to COVID-19 and are not contagious at all such as menstrual body aches, headaches, allergies, or a pre-existing condition. The goal is to keep the meeting safe from infectious diseases and do the very best to ensure our girls are educated and healthy, not to make it unnecessarily difficult or uncomfortable for girls to gather safely. 

COVID-19 Waiver
GSCSA is providing a COVID-19 risk and liability waiver that members must use for in-person Girl Scout meetings and activities on our website here. Parents/caregivers may sign for themselves and their girl participants on the same form for Girl Scout gatherings and activities. Participants only need to fill the form out one time to be kept on file.

Volunteers should collect a signed waiver for all participants at in-person gatherings and maintain those records confidentially with other troop health documents.

GSCSA is not collecting these waivers for troop activities, and they do not need to be turned into the Council unless a person is attending a Council event and does not already have a waiver on file with their troop.

Troop Meeting Space
Outdoor spaces where social distancing can be maintained are always strongly recommended for meetings. Advance permission from the property owner or the jurisdiction that provides the location should be obtained.

Outdoor meeting locations are our primary recommendation with large, indoor spaces as the second-best option if physical distancing is possible. Virtual meetings are the next preferred option, and we are offering drastically reduced Zoom memberships for troops and service units to support this option, even if you just want to meet virtually for part of the year. The annual fee is only $36 ($3 per month) and you can email us at info@girlscoutcsa.org to take advantage of this offer.

Meetings may not be held in fitness centers or gyms, where a greater risk for contracting the virus may exist. Schools or churches may not permit outside groups on premises, so always check and confirm ahead of time.

For meetings held at public facilities, contact the facility ahead of time and ask:

  • Is the space cleaned, and touch surfaces (i.e., tabletops, light switches, chairs, etc.) sanitized, at least daily?
  • Who else uses the space (how often, what size is the group)? Is the space cleaned between groups?
  • What type of faucets/soap dispensers are available in the restroom (sensory or manual)?

Then, volunteers and parents should consider whether the troop or service unit can supplement any practices that are less ideal. For example, if the Girl Scouts will arrive after another user group, sanitizing wipes and/or spray should be used to prepare the space. Another example: if sink faucets are manual, adults should take some time to show girls how to shut them off with a paper towel. Paper towels should be used to handle doorknobs whenever possible. Hand sanitizer should always be available.

Troop Meetings in the home
The national organization suggests no meetings inside a home because there would be a great risk of exposure to other family members. However, GSCSA understands that the colder weather season and ongoing COVID-19-related facility issues create exceptional situations resulting from restricted public meeting options.

GSCSA will evaluate in-home meetings on a case-by-case basis, particularly for those troops who have no elderly or immune-compromised family members in the home and do not have access to a virtual option. This is a complex situation, and volunteers must receive prior approval to meet in a volunteer’s home by filling out the SU and Troop Activity Approval form. On the form, they should list the meeting place’s address with name of troop volunteer who is the resident or owner, usual meeting time and day, and an affirmation that all guidelines below will be followed. All participants, including family members in the home who are not participating in the meeting, must sign a COVID-19 waiver that is maintained by troop volunteers.

For a troop to meet inside a home, the following must be observed:

  • The meeting must be in the home of a registered, background-checked, council approved volunteer.
  • Girls may not meet in a home where a registered sex offender lives.
  • We do not require membership and background checks for all adults living in the home, but you MUST ensure that you provide the appropriate number of background-checked, Girl Scout volunteers for your adult-to-girl ratio.
  • The troop needs to be able to focus without disruption from other household members and should be able to have social distancing with face masks whenever at least six feet of social distancing cannot be consistently maintained.
  • Animals should be kept in a place that is separate from the meeting space for safety.
  • Food should be kept to a minimum with only individually wrapped items or food distribution by an adult wearing a mask and gloves. Participants should be spread out while eating or drinking.
  • Homeowners should consider any personal homeowner insurance implications. The homeowner should ask their homeowner’s insurance carrier if there are any insurance exclusions regarding holding troop meetings at the home, in the event of an accident or injury occurs.
  • Weapons must be completely out of view and stored in a locked space.
  • Medication, dangerous cleaning products, or any poisonous substances must be stored in a secure space out of sight, preferably locked.
  • Meetings should ideally be held outdoors, perhaps in the back or front yard of the home, an open garage/carport, or other open outdoor space.

The recommendation is to stay away from in-home meetings, but volunteers and parents should decide together what their best meeting option is, given local public health conditions and facility availability.

Troop Meeting Size
GSUSA’s current suggested maximum is 10 people (eight girls and two unrelated adult volunteers). However, check your local restrictions for small gatherings. If more restrictive, follow the local restriction. Restrictions vary greatly from state to state, county to county, and even from town to town—and frequently change as conditions change. If a state allows more than 10 to gather, utilize all social distancing practices and follow all preventative guidance (such as face coverings).

As of this edition date, here is the state guidance that affects troop meetings within our council:

Georgia:

  • Starting June 1, 2020: Gatherings of more than 25 people in a single location are allowed if six feet of space is maintained between each person. Business categories and industry-specific guidelines are included at this link.

Tennessee:

  • Executive orders from the governor and/or local orders in counties with a locally run county health department (Hamilton, Knox, and Sullivan) continue to limit group sizes for participation in social and recreational gatherings and require persons or groups of certain sizes to maintain separation from other persons or groups outside their own group. Business categories and industry-specific guidelines are included at this link.

Virginia:

If you have a large troop, stay connected while you wait for a safe time for everyone to gather. Large troops are wonderful, so stay together! Some ideas:

  • Host virtual troop meetings (see below).
  • Gather in smaller groups—such as age-level groups, patrols, or groups of girls with a particular badge they would like to work on.

Transportation
Individual parents should drop off and pick up their own girls from meetings. Carpooling and public transportation should be avoided, whenever possible, to maintain social distancing.

If carpooling is the only option, it is imperative to take all safety precautions when girls are travelling in motor vehicles. Coronavirus transmission risk is high when people are in close proximity within six feet. The risk increases when people are in an enclosed area or indoors for longer than 10-15 minutes. When transporting girls, always space out the girls to avoid crowding, have girls wear a mask covering the nose and mouth, and keep the windows partially open to provide ventilation. Make sure parents are aware ahead of time if girls will be in a car together. Always, for every in-person event, meeting, or transportation arrangement, conduct the pre-screening process to reduce the risk of coronavirus exposure at Girl Scout gatherings.

Remember:

  • Girls and adults should wear masks when inside of a motor vehicle
  • Keep car windows opened, at least partially, to circulate fresh air
  • Consider the personal situation of your girls:
    1. Do they live with an immune compromised person that they can put at risk? If so, perhaps make other accommodations for her with her parents.
    2. Pre-screen all passengers since enclosed travel creates more risk.
    3. Have the families been isolating, and free from illness? 

Virtual meetings
Meeting options should be flexible based on the fluid nature of COVID-19 risk. Troops that are able to run online meetings as needed (or wanted) should do so. GSUSA recommends maintaining a virtual to in-person ratio of at least 20/80, which means to maintain virtual troop meetings at least 20% of the time to keep tech skills and virtual meeting habits fresh. Use the Safety Activity Checkpoints for Virtual Meetings, to guide your meeting plans: Virtual Troop Meetings.

Day trips and activities
In conjunction with Safety Activity Checkpoints, follow the same pre-screening, meeting, transportation, and COVID-19 mitigation guidance in this document. Call ahead to the facility or vendor to confirm that they are following CDC and state health department guidelines. If activity or sporting equipment is being provided, ask the provider if they wipe down equipment in between uses. Make whatever appropriate accommodations that are necessary. For example, bring extra sanitizer if none will be provided for public use at the activity location.

Travel and overnight stays
Overnight trips are now permitted within our Council’s geography and only with prior Council approval. GSCSA is now reviewing activity forms for trips outside of our geography that begin on and/or after Friday, April 30, 2021. As part of the approval process, our staff will be inquiring about your COVID-related processes and plans including sanitization, transportation of participants, overnight sleeping arrangements, and pre-screening. For all travel, use all health and safety guidance available to ensure the safety of all participants such as COVID-19 guidance provided by this council and the CDC, state and local health authority guidance or restrictions, and the Safety Activity Checkpoints. GSCSA reserves the right to withdraw approval if the COVID situation changes regionally. Troops are encouraged to review all vendor cancellation and refund policies prior to making payments. GSCSA is not responsible for non-refundable deposits or payments.

Overnight camping stays are now allowed on all three of our camp properties. We are limiting overnights to those buildings that do not have HVAC systems in order to reduce COVID-19 virus exposure. We are also limiting capacity to 50% of what each unit will sleep to allow for physical distancing during overnights. The fields and trails are open for games, hiking, badgework, and more. You can see unit capacities on our facility use chart and inquire about reservations by calling us at (800) 474-1912 or emailing us at info@girlscoutcsa.org. No food service or staffed program activities are being scheduled at this time.

Travel and Trips for Graduating Seniors Funds Extension Guidelines

Hygiene and COVID-19 Risk Mitigation
Follow the resources developed by credible public health sources such as the CDC or your state or local public health department. Share these with girls and volunteers and ensure that they are practiced during meetings and activities. Place signs in the meeting or activity space to remind girls and volunteers to engage in everyday preventive actions to help prevent the spread of COVID-19.

Signs should include:

  • Stay home if feeling sick.
  • Cough and sneeze into a tissue, throw the tissue in the trash, and wash or sanitize your hands.
  • Wash your hands often with soap and water for at least 20 seconds, especially after going to the bathroom, before eating, and after blowing your nose, coughing, or sneezing. If soap and water are not available, use a hand sanitizer that contains at least 60% alcohol.
  • Avoid touching your eyes, nose, and mouth. Wash hands frequently.
  • Volunteers, girls and parents should be reminded to make sure temperatures are taken prior to group interaction to confirm the individual is not running a fever as defined by public health. Members with fever should skip the in-person gatherings. 

Personal contact
Hugs, handshakes, “high-fives,” and even activities like the friendship circle or squeeze can transmit COVID-19 from person to person. Refrain from these gestures for the time being. Create a safe way for girls and volunteers to greet and end meetings instead (like tapping elbows).

Singing
Research and the CDC suggests that activities like singing or using a projected voice may project respiratory droplets in greater quantity and over greater distance, increasing the risk of COVID-19 transmission, particularly with prolonged exposure. According to the State of Tennessee, any singing activities should take place outdoors, and singers should maintain at least 15 feet of separation—and more if possible—between each other. 

First Aid Supplies
Troop first aid supplies should include COVID-19 prevention items including hand sanitizer (at least 60% alcohol), tissues, disposable facemasks, and disinfectants. Trash baskets or bags should be supplied for meeting and activity spaces, if not already available. Make sure that the trash baskets (or bags) are easily accessible for girls. Disposable or no-contact thermometers may be added to supplies if available and not cost-prohibitive, however, parents should be checking temperatures and allowing their girl(s) to join group activities only when temperatures are normal.

First Aid / CPR Training
Keep skills up-to-date for any emergency. Talk to your council about alternative methods of training that may be available during this time.

Disinfectants and Disinfecting
Routinely clean and disinfect surfaces and objects that are frequently touched (i.e., table tops, markers, scissors, etc.). Use a household cleaner, or see the EPA’s list of effective cleaners approved for use against COVID-19. Follow the manufacturer’s instructions for all cleaning and disinfection products (e.g., concentration, application method and contact time, etc.).

Household bleach is effective against COVID-19 for up to 24 hours when properly diluted. Check that the bleach is not expired and determine if it can be used on a given surface. Follow the manufacturer’s instructions for application and proper ventilation. Never mix household bleach with ammonia or any other cleanser.  

To prepare a bleach solution, mix:  

  • 5 tablespoons (1/3rd cup) bleach per gallon of water or 
  • 4 teaspoons bleach per quart of water

See the CDC’s website for more on cleaning and disinfecting community facilities.

Face Coverings
Volunteers should remind girls that Girl Scouts wear face coverings (masks) not only to protect themselves but to protect others. Face coverings are a civic responsibility and a sign of caring for the community.  Girls can bring their own face coverings. Have disposable masks on hand for those who need them. Volunteers can teach girls how to handle their face coverings so that the coverings are effective. Some girls or volunteers may not be able to wear masks, due to medical conditions such as asthma. Contact your council for guidance on how best to handle these exceptional circumstances as they arise.  

Reporting and communicating a positive COVID 19 test
Troop leaders should keep a list of attendees at any gathering, and if they become aware of a positive test, someone waiting for a test, or someone who has been asked to quarantine, they should contact Melissa Berry at 865-387-1679.

A council staff member and NOT volunteers, will be responsible for:

  • Confirming and tracing the positive tester
  • Contacting the parents of anyone who may have been exposed (or other volunteers) as close contacts
  • Notifying a facility or homeowner where a troop has met
  • Alerting public health if testing agency has not already done so

Let other volunteers know that council staff, NOT volunteers, will notify parents and others about a positive test result and that the tester’s identity is confidential. Remember that girl and volunteer health information is private and strictly confidential and should be only shared on a need-to-know basis with a council staff member.