With 56.4 million K-12 students across the country, preparing for K-12 school reopening is crucial for reducing the spread of COVID-19 and protecting student and staff health on a national level. Now more than ever with the COVID-19 global pandemic, students’ needs are changing, and education trends continue to evolve at a rapid pace. Given the critical nature of the current environment, do you have a playbook for making it a safe return for them?
To help schools prepare for a return to school in the middle of a pandemic, this piece will explore key areas for consideration when developing a plan to protect your schools. We’re here to help you establish effective school reopening safety precautions as you navigate the uncharted territory of returning to school during COVID-19.
There are five main K-12 school reopening safety considerations to take into account this year:
Although these facets of school safety have always been imperative, the COVID-19 pandemic has made them even more critical. To help facilitate a safe return to school this year, each key area will be expanded upon and explained in detail below:
You will need to have a clear approach to starting the year that includes an in-depth look at what changes or upgrades need to be made to your facility to best serve students and teachers while protecting their health. Following a well-thought-out plan can equip your school building to provide a safe, supportive, and comfortable environment during these unique times and in the years to come.
During your planning stage, these are five steps you need to take:
Assessing your school’s financial situation and planning out your budget ahead of time can help your school take advantage of the federal, state, and local funds available for disaster relief. Discussing disaster relief funding will help address immediate concerns — such as making sure you’re eligible for grants like FEMA — and prepare your school for the post-pandemic environment by ensuring you receive future financial assistance from funds like the C.A.R.E.S. Act.
After organizing your school’s finances, you can start preparing your building for the upcoming year by risk assessment planning. Coming up with a plan that takes all possible future conditions into account is necessary for creating a safe, healthy, and productive environment. Your plan should focus on implementing immediate solutions, such as installing protective measures and engineered infection protection services, along with addressing long-term concerns for your facility’s maintenance and master planning.
Once you have reviewed how you will finance your school building’s extra needs this year and planned for the potential risks, you will be able to begin readying the building’s interior for occupants.
Keeping your school clean and properly sanitized is crucial to mitigating the transfer of pathogens. Using a multi-tiered approach to pathogen mitigation solutions is an effective method of employing precautionary cleaning measures and taking care of suspected or confirmed contamination within your facility. These sanitation measures can also be used in your building environment permanently to help keep it clean and safe.
The following are the three most effective short-term pathogen mitigation solutions:
No single approach is the universal answer for all facilities, so it’s important to take your existing systems into consideration before choosing a cleaning and sanitizing method. Your facility’s environment may benefit most from a combination of these cleaning techniques, so be sure to consult with a professional before making any final decisions.
ULV fogging, electrostatic fogging, and UVGI are appropriate short-term solutions to sanitize your facility and get it clean for students and teachers. But you also need a plan to protect the school environment in the long term. Taking measures to preserve the properly cleaned state your school is now in can ensure a safer, healthier environment for everyone.
The following measures should be considered to reduce the ongoing risk of recontamination due to reentry and regular occupant use:
Your school building will need to adopt ongoing active and passive protection measures to guard against the COVID-19 pandemic. Longer-term solutions will involve monitoring indoor air quality (IAQ) to control airborne contamination and taking extra surface contamination steps. By taking a holistic approach to cleansing your school’s IAQ and surface areas, you can cultivate an environment that is safe, healthy, and protected from potential complications.
Because about 80% of human infections are spread through direct and indirect contact, maintaining the quality of your indoor air is an extremely important component of keeping your building’s occupants healthy. Although most of us think of direct contact transmission as shaking hands or hugging, direct contact also includes activities like talking or coughing, which can spread the virus to anyone within a few feet of the source through aerosols.
The COVID-19 virus is primarily spread by these aerosolized droplets that can travel up to 6 feet and stay alive in the air for hours. Once airborne, these infectious droplets can be transferred through heating, ventilating, and air conditioning (HVAC) systems if proper precautions aren’t put in place. Although filters alone aren’t enough to prevent a virus from being distributed throughout a building by its HVAC system, there are some HVAC modifications that can easily improve your school’s IAQ.
Researchers have found that effective ventilation, disinfection incorporated with air filtration, and the avoidance of air recirculation and overcrowding, can be used to suppress the spread of COVID-19 through aerosols and airborne contamination. One of the most effective ways to filter and purify your indoor air is through bipolar ionization, which produces charged ions that target the contaminants in the air you breathe with disinfection. By latching on to oppositely charged ions, bipolar ionization can make aerosols like viruses, bacteria, and dust particles heavier and more easily trapped by HVAC system filters.
Follow this list of airborne contamination control measures to enhance your school’s IAQ:
Along with airborne contamination control measures, you will need to take some extra surface contamination control measures to protect students and teachers from pathogens. Viruses like COVID-19, SARS, and MERS can live for up to 72 hours on stainless steel and 96 hours on glass, so it’s imperative you regularly disinfect and sanitize the surfaces within your school building.
To kill or slow the spread of microorganisms on surfaces, you can use antimicrobial cleaning products. Whenever an antimicrobial product claims to control, kill, mitigate, repel, or reduce a pest, it is considered a pesticide and regulated by the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA). Although these products can be highly effective surface disinfectants, they should never be used directly on the human body.
These are the three types of antimicrobial pesticides:
Regardless of which type of antimicrobial product you choose, carefully read its label before using it to ensure it is applied correctly. Also, make sure any antimicrobial pesticides you use within your school are registered with the EPA, which means their claims of efficiency against pathogens have been reviewed, found valid, and approved.
Antimicrobial products that are safe for contact with skin are regulated by the U.S. Food and Drug Administration (FDA) as drugs or antiseptics. These types of antimicrobial products include washes, soaps, rubs, hand sanitizers, and antiseptic wipes. The FDA evaluates these antimicrobials based on their safety and efficacy for preventing illness.
Within a school there are naturally high-traffic surface areas, resulting in high-touch surfaces. Putting both short-term and long-term precautions in place can help minimize exposure to viruses and bacteria. Of course, the best way to mitigate the spread of pathogens is to completely avoid contact with these high-touch surfaces by using any existing touchless technology your building has. But that is not always possible.
For instances when contact with a high-touch surface is inevitable, use these three tips to lessen the risk of pathogen spread:
There is no need to renovate all the school building’s bathrooms to reap the contamination-controlling benefits of touchless control automation — although it would be worthwhile if financially possible. Simply switching to infrared thermometers, offering touchless payment options in the lunchroom, or installing touchless automatic hand sanitizer dispensers in certain rooms can help reduce the risk of pathogen spread. To comply with CDC guidelines and effectively control the spread of the COVID-19 virus, be sure any alcohol-based hand sanitizer you use consists of at least 60% alcohol.
Maintaining a safe and healthy school building environment includes preparedness planning using EIP solutions to properly handle suspected or confirmed COVID-19 cases. No matter how well you clean, disinfect, and sanitize your school’s facility, you cannot completely eliminate the possibility of a positive COVID-19 test from one of its occupants. Mapping out a specific procedure for navigating positive cases is the key to securing the health and safety of your facility now and for the future.
According to the CDC, a single positive COVID-19 test is not a reason for a school to shut down entirely as long as plans have been put in place to minimize the spread. The CDC suggests cohorting, or forming small groups of students and teachers that stay together throughout the school day, as an effective strategy for reducing exposure and mitigating the spread of pathogens. By keeping students and staff in organized cohorts, the school can exercise targeted isolation procedures in the event of a positive COVID-19 case instead of taking school-wide measures.
While cohorting can help keep a COVID-19 case contained and reduce transmission of the virus, schools still need further EIP planning in place to properly address a potential outbreak. The EIP plan should provide detailed steps to take for contact tracing, testing, and quarantining once a positive case has appeared within a cohort.
When forming your EIP plan, identify the highest-risk areas according to your previous risk assessment planning, then use a selection matrix to prioritize areas based on asset condition, funding opportunities, financial contributions, and overall project cost. Once you have concluded which areas of your building can be used for confining positive cases, you will be able to create an EIP plan that simultaneously protects the health and safety of your school while following a system best-suited for keeping your building open.
Fully addressing the complexity of current health and safety guidelines requires that your EIP plan includes these five essential precautionary measures:
As a national provider of EIP, energy efficiency, and master planning solutions, SitelogIQ has the necessary tools and experience to help you keep your school environment safe and healthy throughout the year. SitelogIQ offers the complete range of design, engineering, construction, management, energy, and lighting solutions you need to prepare you facility for mitigating pathogen spread and neutralizing exposure.
To learn more about how SitelogIQ can prepare your school building to safely accommodate students and staff and maintain a healthy environment, contact us online or call 888-819-0041 today.