While the pandemic continues to touch just about every part of society, some of the most significant changes can be seen in our nation's public and private schools. To return to in-person learning, schools have been installing personal protective equipment (PPE) to add another layer of protection for students, faculty, and staff. It's now common to see transparent hanging barriers in reception areas and three-sided shields on students' desks.
Installing plexiglass (acrylic) barriers helps prevent the spread of large spray-born droplets released when someone talks loudly, sneezes, or coughs at close range. Barriers work hand-in-hand with facial masks that cover the mouth and nose to reduce the risk of transmission via the smaller particles that can go around the plexiglass barrier and stay airborne for more extended periods.
Schools conducting in-person learning appear to have the most evolving needs and requirements of IDD's client base. Both public and private schools have hired IDD to outfit their campuses with PPE. Some school districts are large, others are small, and while our concentration of clients is local and regional, we've served many across the country. Budget constraints, questions about efficacy, and a need for quick turnaround times have all been factors in our work to support the safety of schools.
"It was a pleasure to work with InStore Design Display on our PPE desktop shields/sneeze guards. They were able to look at the specific needs and different types of utilization for these devices to help design two different devices. One was a simple sheet and the other was a tri-fold device for our kidney desks utilizing acrylic hinges. They were able to keep the bid lower than others and get the product to us by meeting or beating their quoted delivery dates, as we placed two separate orders at different times."
— Karla Summerford, Administrative Assistant/Facilities Coordinator, Raymore-Peculiar School District
Beyond Desk Barriers
Team IDD has learned a lot about the varying needs of schools to reduce the coronavirus' spread. And while our crystal ball is not making any predictions about how long the virus will be with us, we have seen a number of areas in the school environment where barriers can help keep kids safer.
Schools can restructure schedules to reduce traffic between classes, and alter lessons to allow for social distancing. However, lunchtime is one of the aspects of a typical school day that is less flexible. Schools can require students to eat lunch in the classroom or at socially distanced tables to reduce transmission risk while not wearing masks. However, in some cases, a 6-foot separation isn't possible.
By using plexiglass barriers, one table can accommodate multiple students. These barriers protect against the aerosols released by students while chatting with their friends during lunch. This release is more significant when a person speaks loudly. In addition to the barriers, it's a good idea to ask students to talk quietly. Visual representation of sound levels so students are aware of their volume can help.
Laboratory settings typically offer limited capacity on tables that are often bulky or immovable. Installing plexiglass barriers in these settings can help reduce exposure. Positioning barriers between workstations can minimize prolonged close contact of students during class times.
According to a Yale report, "Shared computer peripherals (i.e., mouse, keyboard, screen) increase the risk of transmission of COVID-19. Computer peripherals are made from plastics where SARS-CoV-2 can remain active or infectious for approximately 3 days. Cleaning and disinfection between groups of students is recommended. To promote good hand hygiene, hand sanitizer and disinfectant wipes can be placed around the computer lab. Teachers and students should maintain at least 2 meters or 6 feet of physical distance while wearing masks."
Yale's other recommendations include reducing airborne transmission risks by increasing ventilation in computer classrooms and other spaces. Schools can accomplish this by using mechanical or natural ventilation options. Supplemental controls like fans and air purifiers can also be used if other ventilation options are not available. These different methods are all ways to increase the indoor air change rate — which is defined as the frequency at which air in a space is recycled, which would reduce the likelihood of students and faculty inhaling viral particles.
3) Music Rooms
Wind or brass instruments can generate airborne germs making music rooms high-risk spaces in schools. Singing is another activity that increases the likelihood of transmission. In the early months of the school year, it was possible to hold these classes outdoors. However, colder climates may keep students indoors for music activities. In addition to improved HVAC and sanitization measures, schools can also use plexiglass in music classrooms to separate students who play certain instruments or sing. Ontario Music Educators Association offers additional guidance on how to safely bring students back into music classrooms such as methods for disinfecting instruments and alternate methods of delivering curriculum.
It's impossible to predict if PPE in the classroom is here to stay. However, if masks become a normalized post-pandemic accessory, it's not hard to imagine that sanitizing procedures, hand washing, and clear barriers could be with us in a post-Covid-19 world. IDD continues to collaborate with schools to design, fabricate, and deploy solutions to keep students, teachers, administrators, and their families safer.