It's July! Back to School Season! But wait, it's July 2020, and our tenuous control of COVID-19 means there's enormous uncertainty as parents and teachers determine the best way to get 55 million U.S. students back to school safely.  

Schools play a pivotal role in reopening the economy, as most parents cannot go back to work full-time unless schools reopen. Because of this, districts are facing mounting pressure to bring students back on campus for in-person learning this Fall.

In addition to the economic impact of reopening schools, the American Academy of Pediatrics (AAP) released research suggesting that with proper preparation, having students back on campus is the best option as it relates to mental health and overall wellbeing of children.

AAP’s suggestion that students return to campus is entirely predicated on the notion that these environments are properly prepared to welcome them as well as faculty back to the classroom. This will force schools to identify the appropriate safety measures in order to reduce the spread of COVID-19.

InStore Design Display has been working closely with healthcare providers and essential businesses during the pandemic to provide Personal Protective Equipment (PPE) and barrier systems that are simple to deploy and easy to install. Most recently IDD has been working with school districts and universities to help them better understand what methods of protection may be most effective in their efforts to create safe environments for learning.

Back to school readiness varies from institution to institution. Some of the schools IDD has worked with are installing barrier systems in classrooms and other high traffic areas like the school office. Others we have talked to are relying on distancing students six feet apart and requiring they wear masks, but what’s the best solution for your organization?

How It Spreads

Let’s start with a recap on how you actually contract COVID-19.

As the Wall Street Journal reports, "It’s not common to contract Covid-19 from a contaminated surface, scientists say. And fleeting encounters with people outdoors are unlikely to spread the coronavirus."

The emerging findings implicate "close-up, person-to-person interactions for extended periods" as the major culprit. "Crowded events, poorly ventilated areas, and places where people are talking loudly...maximize the risk."

If you’re an educator, this description may be eerily close to how you would describe your school environment.

Prepared to return to work safely? See our Workplace Protective Equipment

School Infrastructure

Now that we have a very high-level overview of how someone can contract the virus, let’s better understand the infrastructure of the average U.S. classroom and how it impacts the likelihood of the virus spreading.

A study by the National Center for Education Statistics for the 2012-2013 school year found that 53 million school children and six million teachers, administrators, and others walk into 120,000 school buildings every day—and at least 50 percent of these schools have been diagnosed with indoor air quality (IAQ) problems.

This information indicates the current ventilation systems in schools across our country do not provide the desired ventilation necessary to keep the virus at bay. Meaning even if students sit six feet apart, the likelihood of the virus traveling through the stagnant air is still likely.

Rectifying the poor ventilation systems requires time and money—both of which are in short supply prior to the start of the Fall semester. Schools must identify more feasible protection measures that range from educating students and their families about proper hygiene, reducing occupancy, and implementing affordable, easy to deploy methods of personal protection.

Barrier Systems

Personal protection screens are low-cost, easy to deploy, and high-impact measures. Installing panels fitted onto socially distanced desks can allow students to socialize and collaborate in a safe manner. A well-designed desk barrier can help make students and faculty feel more comfortable in their classrooms. Similar measures can be taken at reception desks, administrative offices, and any other communal spaces like cafeterias or libraries.

These solutions come in the form of:

If you are working to outfit a campus that has inconsistent desk dimensions or other unique size requirements, hanging barriers are an ideal solution. They are simple to install, aesthetically pleasing, and don’t require exact measurements to be effective.

While barrier systems are effective means of protection, students and faculty are not stationary all day. In these instances, a wearable barrier is a viable alternative.

Wearable Personal Protection

Several states have implemented masking requirements while in public places. These guidelines come after numerous studies found the use of face coverings by the general public impedes COVID-19 transmission significantly. While the efficacy of masks has been proven, that data is based on the person wearing them as directed, which includes not adjusting the mask and/or touching your face often.

Many school administrators have plans to require face masks for students in the upper elementary and beyond. The reliance on this method of prevention is worrisome for many educators because they are the “boots on the ground” with the students every day. They understand their students' tendencies and are concerned the discomfort and monotony of the masks will cause them to be worn improperly and thus render them essentially useless, leaving teachers and other staff in harm’s way.

You have probably seen healthcare providers and other essential workers wearing a different kind of face-covering over the course of the pandemic. Face shields aren't just another added layer of protection, they can also serve as an alternative to face masks.

In a study done by the National Center of Biotechnology Information, they found face shields can reduce inhalation exposure and surface contamination of airborne particles by up to 97 percent. Due to the design of face shields, it is still possible for contamination from particles entering your mouth and nose under the shield. However, the comfortability of the shield vs. the mask could make them more effective because they are less likely to be adjusted as often. In addition, face shields provide a barrier that prevents subconscious face touching as well as protection for the eyes. Finally, unlike a mask, a face shield will not disrupt communication due to the visual obstruction of the mouth.

Choose Great Partners

If you are reading this as it is published in July of 2020 and you haven’t yet identified the protective measures being implemented and the partners you are going to use in order to do so, you are getting dangerously close to not having the materials that you need to implement barrier systems or face shields.

You may be thinking, “those look simple enough, our facilities team could do that in house.”

However, before heading to the local hardware store, let’s revisit the basis for implementing safety measures. The goal is to provide your students, teachers, staff, and families with a sense of comfort that gives them confidence your campus is safe. 

A hodgepodge combination of self-made barrier systems is unlikely to instill that confidence. In addition, as COVID-19 cases continue to increase so will the demand for materials used to create protective elements, making any plans for DIY more challenging.

When choosing a partner for PPE, there are many things to consider. It’s important to understand not only their capabilities but also their supply chain. InStore Design Display is a domestic manufacturer of plastics, which benefits our clients because we have access to hard-to-come-by materials. As the U.S. continues to see COVID cases and hospitalization rates soar, these materials are going to continue to become very difficult to attain.

IDD is also a successful design-build team. That means if you choose a stock product or opt for custom, we will deliver solutions that are on time, on budget, and aesthetically pleasing. 

There are no guidelines (yet) on what actions schools will be required to take prior to welcoming students back to campus. However, we hope that by providing facts, options, and insight into campus readiness plans from other institutions, you are better equipped to choose the best approach for your school. 

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