What does "good" look like for a return to school?
Over the course of the past few weeks, I have been asked what a good mitigation program looks like (this does not mean everyone will or even should return, each individual still needs to evaluate their own risk given their unique circumstances). So, I tried to figure out what are the most important ten items to a good Covid-19 mitigation program at a school. Unfortunately, I couldn't limit it to ten items, so here are my top 15 to reduce transmission rates when school restarts:
1. Air Handling is increased to at least an air change rate of six per hour (air is replaced six times per hour) – if possible, the air change rate should be increased to ten.
2. Filtration is improved to at least MERV-13 in all air handling units (if the school can perform a UV retrofit within the air handling system, that is a really helpful add-on). Air handling is running continuously so that filtration is occurring 24x7x365.
3. Outside Air is maximized – moving to 100% when possible would be helpful. Where outside air cannot be increased, supplementary air cleaners are used within classrooms (box fans with MERV-13 attached filters can be used to save money - I will talk about that in a latter Blog).
4. Masks are required at all times indoors, fit well, worn properly, and include three layers (preferably with one layer being silk or some other material that builds an electrostatic charge) – no masks with valves, no single layer masks. If a student is unable or unwilling to wear a mask, that student should stay with distance learning.
5. All food/beverage consumption (with unmasking) will occur outdoors in an area that is open to air movement (no open air alcoves with stagnant air) with at least six feet between individuals (preferably more distance if available).
6. Surfaces are sanitized and soap/water or hand sanitizer are used frequently.
7. Social distancing accommodates at least 50 sq. ft. per student (this allows for 8’ diameter bubbles from center of mass which should allow 6’ social distancing - thank you math teachers - math is useful - 4x4x3.14 = 50.24). Instructor area needs to also allow for 6' social distancing and likely should be at least 150-200 sq. ft. so that an instructor can move along a white board or chalk board at front of classroom (8x20 to 8x25 rectangular area in front of classroom). In a typical 850-900 sq. ft. classroom, maximum occupancy would be 14-15 students and 1 teacher.
8. Appropriate screening for those showing symptoms (much of the spread appears to be asymptomatic; however, it doesn't hurt to screen for temperature and for parents to screen their children before school). Nobody should show up to school with a fever or otherwise showing symptoms of illness.
9. Training of all students, teachers, staff and administrators on proper adherence to all requirements.
10. 3rd party vendors are required to adhere to all of the requirements, failure to do so results in removal.
11. If school buses are used, maximize outside air (through open windows and maximize outside air for bus air handling system). Social distance within the bus (one student per row – alternate sides of bus, sit along outside wall of bus). No eating, full masking requirements.
12. Extend the passing period to reduce congestion in hallways. No standing in hallways. Make hallways one-way if possible (if not, each side of the hallway is one way). Maintain appropriate distancing in hallways as much as possible. Minimize time in hallways.
13. If a student, teacher, staff or administrator is diagnosed with COVID-19, everyone that person came in contact with should spend at least two weeks working from home and have two COVID-19 tests that come back negative one-week apart – If a teacher was found COVID-19 positive, all students in any of that teacher’s classes should learn remotely for at least two weeks and have two COVID-19 tests that come back negative one-week apart. If a student is found positive, each teacher and student in any of their classes should work from home and have two COVID-19 tests that come back negative one-week apart.
14. Real consequences for violating COVID-19 implementation restrictions – consequences would include requirement to only do distance learning/working from home only or potentially law enforcement action if there is an assault (ripping off a mask, spitting on someone, or threatening someone). Students, teachers, staff, and administrators who are unable to comply with rules around mask wearing and hand cleaning are removed from the premises (revert to distance learning).
15. Have a 3rd Party Assessment of both the design of the mitigation as well as the implementation (should be from a reputable 3rd party or a trained assessment function within a County or State Health Department). Implement recommendations from the 3rd Party Assessment.
Will this eliminate all cases of COVID-19 upon return to in classroom study? No. However, this would significantly reduce the risk and would allow more stakeholders to accept the remaining risk and send more students back to school. It might not impact the decision of a multi-generational family living under one roof; however, it might make it more palatable for a young, healthy family to return to school. It would also make it much less likely for the school to become the next cautionary tale of an ill-advised return to school program.
If you have suggestions for adding items or have evidence that one of these items would not be effective, please provide feedback at firstname.lastname@example.org.