Some of you are aware that I am helping some schools with their pandemic operational plans. In my work with one school district, it became clear that we needed to rewrite their operational plan. We have taken a unique approach to this plan. First of all, most plans are written for school leaders, staff and teachers. But, if we are going to be successful, we need to have the help of parents. So, this is the first plan that I have ever seen that also includes parents and their role in the pandemic operations. Further, plans that I have seen tell people what to do, but I have never seen a plan that explains why. It is my view that if we want people to do things that are above and beyond their normal duties/responsibilities, we have to explain why. So, I thought that an excerpt from the plan might be helpful to everyone, whether you are a principal, teacher, or parent. So, here you go:
- What is SARS-CoV-2 and how is it transmitted?
The Severe Acute Respiratory Syndrome – Coronavirus 2 (SARS-CoV-2) is the name of the virus that causes COVID (coronavirus disease) or COVID-19 (the 19 refers to the fact that this disease was first recognized in 2019).
The SARS-CoV-2 virus is very contagious and the challenging thing for managing the spread of this virus is that people often are contagious in the day or two before they develop symptoms, and others are infectious though they may remain asymptomatic for the entire duration of their infection. Therefore, until the spread of this disease can be brought under control, children will show up for school infected and contagious even though there may be no sign that these children are ill. The safest thing is to assume that you may be contagious and should therefore avoid close contact (six feet) with persons with whom you do not live and that everyone else apart from those with whom you live that you interact with during the day are potentially contagious.
The virus is transmitted in three different ways:
- Droplets – This is the most common way the virus is transmitted. Droplets refer to the secretions that come out of our nose or mouth when we speak, cough, sneeze, yell or sing, and if you are infected, virus will be contained in these droplets. This is why it is important to COVER YOUR COUGHS AND SNEEZES. No doubt you have noticed at times when talking or when observing someone else talking, that you can see small amounts of what you may have called spittle or spit come out of the mouth while speaking. This is normal and common, in fact, it is happening even when you don’t notice it.
We call this spittle or spit droplets, and these are secretions from your nose mixed with mucous or your throat mixed with saliva. If someone is infected with the SARS-CoV-2 virus, this virus resides for a period of time in the nose and throat and therefore is likely to be present in those droplets.
As droplets come out of our mouth and nose, they travel for a distance and either land on a surface or fall to the ground. If you are sitting at a desk, some of these droplets will land on your desk. If you are working on a computer, droplets will land on the screen and the keyboard. If you are talking on an iPhone, droplets will collect on the screen. This is why we must WASH OR SANITIZE OUR HANDS FREQUENTLY and CLEAN SURFACES that are touched or in close proximity to teachers and students AT LEAST DAILY AND ESPECIALLY BETWEEN USE by different teachers or students.
The droplets travel various distances, depending on their size, weight, the humidity in the room or outside, and what barriers are in their way (like a laptop computer or another person). The largest number of droplets will be in the air and in surfaces close to the person who is talking, coughing, sneezing, or singing, generally falling to the ground or evaporating by a distance of six feet. This is why we ask that everyone try to MAINTAIN A DISTANCE OF SIX FEET BETWEEN YOURSELF AND ANYONE YOU DO NOT LIVE WITH. This includes walking to school, riding the bus, arriving at school, in the hallways, in your classroom, at recess, while you are eating, and when you are in PE class or playing sports.
When a person is close enough (within six feet) to another person who is infected, and may not even realize that they are infected, then these droplets can land on the other person’s face, eyes, nose or throat and the virus in the droplets can infect that person by the person touching their face and then introducing it into their eyes (by rubbing their eyes), their nose (by rubbing or picking their nose or by simply breathing the droplets in) or their mouth (by the droplets landing in the mouth or by droplets on the lips being introduced into the mouth with licking their lips or with eating or drinking).
DISTANCE IS OUR MOST EFFECTIVE WAY TO SLOW DOWN AND PREVENT THE SPREAD OF THIS DISEASE. This is why we ask everyone, whether in school or at night or on the weekends, please avoid large gatherings. Large gatherings increase the likelihood that someone in that gathering is infected and contagious, even if they feel perfectly well and appear well, and large gatherings make it difficult to maintain your distance of six feet at all times.
Along with keeping our distance, the other most important thing we can do is to WEAR PROPER FACE COVERINGS PROPERLY. The main thing face coverings do is serve as a barrier to collect the majority of these droplets, and by doing so, blocking virus in those droplets from getting onto someone else’s face, eyes, nose or mouth that could then infect that person.
One can still be infected by droplets outdoors, though air and wind currents tend to impede the distance droplets will travel outside. Nevertheless, when outdoors, we should continue to KEEP A DISTANCE OF SIX FEET FROM ONE ANOTHER and WEAR PROPER FACE COVERINGS PROPERLY when there is a risk that distancing cannot be maintained at all times.
- Airborne or aerosols – This is the next most common way to transmit the virus and likely the cause of transmission when you hear about “super-spreader events.” Aerosols are smaller than droplets. If you think of droplets like spittle, think of aerosols like the mist of hair spray or deodorant spray, although these can be even smaller. It may be confusing to call this airborne transmission when we talk about droplets, above, that also travel in the air. The difference is that droplets travel in the air only as far as they are expelled with force. For example, droplets will travel a shorter distance when we are speaking softly than they will when the teacher is projecting her voice in the classroom so her students can hear or when a coach is yelling or cheerleaders are cheering. Similarly, coughing or sneezing expels droplets a further, but still limited, distance.
To better understand airborne transmission, think of a time you were entering a room after someone was smoking or even when you were outside walking behind someone who was smoking. Could you smell the cigarette or cigar? Or, recall a time when you entered the locker room after people were exercising and sweating. You were smelling odors that were not projected into air by droplets, but rather carried in the air streams in the room or outdoors. That odor could just as well be virus particles carried in aerosols. And, if you were breathing in those odors and able to identify the smell, you would also be breathing in virus particles if they were circulating in aerosols.
Droplets travel a finite distance, in most cases, little more than six feet due to being pulled down to the ground by gravity or evaporating in air. In airborne transmission, the aerosols are small enough and light enough to travel on air streams, generally those created by indoor ventilation systems. They can travel the entire distance of a room or open area on these airstreams as they move to wherever the air return is.
“Super-spreader events,” namely those events where numerous persons are infected by a single person, tend to be large gatherings held indoors. While some people in attendance in close proximity to others may be infected by droplets, it is likely that many are infected by these aerosols traveling on air streams. These aerosols are created the same way that droplets are, but appear to be produced in larger amounts and with higher amounts of virus in them when people raise their voice, yell, cheer, or sing.
There are ways to mitigate the risks of airborne transmission:
- If weather allows classes or other activities to be held OUTSIDE, the risk of airborne transmission is reduced greatly.
- WEARING A PROPER FACE COVERING PROPERLY has been shown to reduce the number of aerosols a person emits into the air by 65 percent, because these, too, can be blocked to some extent by a face covering.
- COVER YOUR COUGHS AND SNEEZES to reduce the number of aerosols ejected out into the air.
- If indoors, increase the number of air exchanges per hour. Four to five air exchanges per hour would be good. The higher, the better. In addition, air in school buildings should not be recirculated when possible. It is always best to exhaust the air to the outdoors and circulate fresh air.
- If indoors, look for the air return in the room. Because air streams move towards the air return. Make sure that the teacher’s and students’ desks are not placed directly under an air return because the air streams that might contain virus will be directed right at that student or teacher.
- If indoors, consider opening the classroom door or the classroom windows, if the weather permits.
- Contact – Of all the modes of transmission, this appears to be the least common. This mode of transmission would involve touching a surface where droplets have landed or touching items in the household recently used by someone who is ill with COVID where virus that remains on the surface might get on your hands and then you might touch your eyes, nose or mouth and introduce the virus where it can cause infection.
For these reasons, we recommend that everyone:
- WASH OR SANITIZE YOUR HANDS FREQUENTLY. Washing hands is always preferred when a person has visibly soiled hands due to dirt, blood, secretions, or vomitus. Otherwise, washing and sanitizing are, for our purposes, equally effective. When washing, use soap; warm, but comfortable water; and ensure that you rub your hands vigorously, lathering the soap and getting water and soap over the entire hands and between the fingers for 20 seconds. When sanitizing, similarly get the sanitizer rubbed over the entirety of the hands and between fingers. Allow the sanitizer to air dry rather than wiping the hands dry.
- CLEAN SURFACES DAILY but more often if the surface is frequently touched, e.g., doorknobs or sink faucet handles, and clean desks and keyboards between each student’s use.
- DO NOT SHARE drinks, food, snacks, gum, writing utensils, tissues, face coverings, make-up, chap stick, eating utensils, musical instruments or personal items.
- When students leave at the end of the day, tables, keyboards, chairs and other surfaces that were frequently touched by students need to be cleaned with ______.
- If there is equipment that will be shared by students (e.g., weight machines, free weights, kilns in art class, music stands, or mats), these should be cleaned in between each student’s use with ____ by the teacher or by the student with the teacher’s supervision.
- What are the most important things for me to know to protect myself, the staff and teachers at my school and the students at my school?
- Get a flu shot for yourself and everyone in your family if you have not already done so.
- Restrict visitors and non-essential persons in the school building.
- If you do not feel well, stay home, and if a student feels ill, please keep your child home from school. There are many contagious viruses that circulate in our communities during the fall and winter. Regardless of the cause of a staff member’s or student’s illness, it will help us manage the health and wellbeing of our staff, teachers and students if we can limit the transmission of all viral illnesses, especially since it can be very difficult to distinguish COVID from other common viral infections simply based upon symptoms.
- If you suspect that you or a student or someone you know has COVID-19 or has come into close contact with someone who has COVID-19, visit Coronavirus self-checker. This online tool will help you decide when to seek testing or medical care for you or the student.
- Notify your child’s school that your child is sick, and staff notify your school if you are sick. Also inform the school if a staff member or student has had a COVID-19 test and what the result is, if available.
- If anyone in your household is determined to have a confirmed or a probable case of COVID, everyone in the home should remain at home in quarantine for 14 days, while the infected family member is isolated. There is substantial transmission of the virus in the home when anyone is infected, whether an adult or a child.
- The risks you subject yourself and your family to outside of school will impact the risk that a staff member or student could be infected and unknowingly take the virus with them into the school and infect others. Therefore, follow the recommendations below at school and outside of school.
- Wash or sanitize your hands frequently. Washing hands is always preferred when a person has visibly soiled hands due to dirt, blood, secretions, or vomitus. Otherwise, washing and sanitizing are, for our purposes, equally effective. When washing, use soap; warm, but comfortable water; and ensure that you rub your hands vigorously, lathering the soap and getting water and soap over the entire hands and between the fingers for 20 seconds. When sanitizing, similarly get the sanitizer rubbed over the entirety of the hands and between fingers. Allow the sanitizer to air dry rather than wiping the hands dry.
- Cover your coughs and sneezes.
- Avoid attending events or activities where there will be large gatherings. With the high degree of community spread that we have, the chances that people in that gathering will be infected, even without realizing it or appearing ill, and contagious increase with the number of people in the gathering. Currently, in Idaho, we see many cases of COVID from attending weddings, backyard barbeques, sleepovers, car-pooling, or get-togethers with friends or extended family members.
- If you will be out in public, attempt to maintain a physical distance of at least six feet from anyone you do not live with, and if indoors or if outdoors and keeping the distance cannot be assured, wear a proper face covering properly.
- Proper face coverings can include cloth masks with two or more layers of washable, breathable fabric, surgical masks, or gaiters with two fabric layers or that are folded over to make two layers. Masks with an exhalation valve or vent are not appropriate face coverings because they allow virus to escape through the mask. A face shield is not an acceptable face covering, except in very limited situations as approved by the _________. That is because face shields provide little, if any protection for the face shield wearer or those around her from droplet or aerosol transmission. For those students or teachers who have the need for their lips to be seen, e.g., interpreters, special education teachers or teachers teaching young children how to sound out letters or words, the Clear Mask https://www.theclearmask.com or the Rafi Nova Mask https://rafinova.com/pages/face-mask are acceptable face masks when engaged in activities for which a cloth face covering or surgical mask is not practical. The advantage to the Clear Mask is that the plastic window does not fog with speaking.
Wearing a face covering properly means that the face covering completely covers the mouth and nose and the mask does not have significant gaps at the sides where it does not fit well against the face.