Back to school for U.S. teachers in the age of COVID-19
August 8, 2020 8:17 AM   Subscribe

It's looking like my district is planning on going back and I'll be in the school building anywhere between one day to five days per week. I'm scared about getting the virus and I'm horrified about passing the virus to my kids to bring home to their families. I'm trying to figure out what supplies I want, and starting to amass them now (in case they get even scarcer as we get closer to the date). I'd like to hear from other teachers and people with knowledge of PPE about what makes sense for the classroom/school building that an individual can reasonably acquire and use.

I'm at the high school level in a neighborhood that was ravaged by covid in the spring, so I do expect most of the students and teachers will be as careful with their own masks/practices as they can manage. OTOH the building is old, the ventilation is questionable, no one is perfect, people will mess up, and some may act out. They're also currently saying that teachers will need to stay in the rooms with our kids during their lunchtime. The district is saying that schools will provide certain PPE and cleaning supplies but I don't think I can rely on that, so I'm also thinking about what I can provide for my students as well as what I want for me.

Thank you!
posted by Salamandrous to Education (6 answers total) 4 users marked this as a favorite
Best answer: Can you at least get box fans for the windows? According to Joseph Allen, who directs a program at the Harvard University School of Public Health focused on healthy buildings, "Small, inexpensive steps like opening windows, equipping classrooms with box fans and portable air purifiers, and holding classes outside can make a big difference in keeping the virus at bay, even if an infected student or teacher shows up" (Schools face big virus test as students return to classroom, AP, Aug. 8, 2020). Previously, he is quoted as saying, "One key, he says, is bringing in as much outdoor air as possible, so that viral particles don’t build up if someone is sick and shedding virus," (Safer Air: To Cut Virus Risk In Fall, Schools Scramble To Improve Ventilation, WBUR, Jul. 31, 2020), and "his Healthy Buildings program put out a 60-page report on how schools can reduce coronavirus risk, including ventilation guidelines." (via Harvard T.H. Chan School of Public Health coronavirus news updates)
posted by katra at 8:40 AM on August 8, 2020 [6 favorites]

I agree with the above poster about working with windows being open, and getting fans and hepa filters to mitigate the virus in the air. You should have a mask and ideally a face shield (though if you wear eyeglasses, then you might be ok.) I think the biggest thing beyond this is to have hand sanitizer to use anytime you touch something that someone else has touched, and to wash your hands if that is available. If I were going back to a school (I was laid off, and don't plan on working in a school again until this is all over) I would have my own soap to use to wash my hands, and wipes and other cleaning stuff to clean my classroom, as well for my kids to use to wipe down their desks.

You also will want to set up systems to have paper dropped in baskets instead of kids handing things to you, and the same with handing out things- you place on kids desks. One thing a friend is planning to do is to have everything be online- even with his in person kids (but our district is now one to one). The big reason for this is just to have everyone used to the system for when schools shut down, but the other is it keeps kids interacting but not moving around, or passing things around etc.

The other thing to know is text books should not be shared- which can be an issue if you only have one class set.

The other thing I think about is if you have long hair, to keep it tied back in a way that you are not brushing it out of your face- because you want to avoid touching your face.

I think the evidence shows that we don't have to worry about surface contamination, but some people suggest wearing the equivalent of scrubs and changing before you enter your home (if you have a garage, or as soon as you enter.
posted by momochan at 12:02 PM on August 8, 2020 [1 favorite]

Best answer: My situation: We are starting virtual, with students returning to the building early September. Staff is expected to be on campus (starting this week), and to teach their virtual lessons from their classrooms. Doors are to remain open during the day to improve air flow (we don't have windows in the classrooms).

I bought extra fabric masks and school clothes so that I could wear new clean items every day without doing daily laundry and so my clothes won't wear out as fast from being washed all the time. Clothes and masks go into a hamper by the door and stay there until I wash them.

I bought alcohol wipes from my office supply store ( for me). I wash what I can with soap and water (glasses), and non-washable items (phone, belt, watch etc) are wiped down with alcohol or left to sit for 3 or more days. I've been told that wipes will not kill the virus because the disinfectant does not sit long enough on the items, but I'm doing it anyway.

Shoes that are worn outside the house stay on a rack by the door and are not put on until the last minute. I have, um, a lot of shoes, so I also rotate so that any given pair is only worn every three or more days.

I am using brown paper sacks to bring my lunch, and either throwing them away (sorry mother earth) or letting them sit untouched for more than 24 hours before I reuse them. Plastic containers and my water bottle are wiped down with alcohol wipes, then washed in hot soapy water.

My school is providing spray bottles of Virex and hand sanitizer for my classroom. If I was mixing my own, I'd probably use a soap/water mix as the most effective and least allergy triggering substance. Because it has to sit for several minutes to be effective, I will only do this at the end of the day.

I am also buying extra pencils, pens, and small calculators (from the dollar store) for students who cannot afford to buy their own. I'll probably keep extra pencils on hand to discourage sharing. If you teach math, putting a calculator inside a ziploc bag and disposing of or wiping down the bag has been suggested to us.

I also switched from a lanyard to a clip for my ID badge, so that it is easier to disinfect.

Not a purchase, but I will be assigning students a desk/seat for the entire semester. We are on a block schedule, so worst case scenario for me is that only 4 students will use any given desk per day, but in reality it's probably less.

We are also eliminating all paper. Worksheets and notes are available for them on our LMS, and they may print, hand write, or save digitally. Assignments will be submitted digitally, and all quizzes and tests will be online, even for our "on campus" students. Students that don't have printers or reliable technology will receive a printed packet, but I will not be collecting anything from them. If I have to, I'll take a picture on my phone from three feet away.

Good luck this year.
posted by rakaidan at 1:23 PM on August 8, 2020 [3 favorites]

Best answer: Also, as to your question about personal PPE, according to Fauci: Wear goggles or eye shields to prevent spread of COVID-19; flu vaccine a must (ABC News, Jul. 29, 2020), and on July 15, 2020, the Guardian live blog noted a report from Reuters about public health recommendations to use both a face shield and a mask.
posted by katra at 5:42 PM on August 8, 2020 [1 favorite]

Response by poster: Thank you so much, and huge thanks to the generous Mefite who sent me kn95s.

I'll definitely do the kn95 mask and goggles/eye shields. If anyone sees this and has any tips for how to narrow down from all the choices on Amazon, that would be great.

If I'm only teaching in one or two rooms, I think I can make fans work too.But I'm not sure I can get a fan that would go in the window. Does it have to? Either way, I'm assuming it should face to blow the air from inside to outside?

Still pondering the other stuff, and still hoping my district decides to go remote after all.
posted by Salamandrous at 7:32 AM on August 18, 2020 [1 favorite]

goggles/eye shields. If anyone sees this and has any tips for how to narrow down from all the choices on Amazon, that would be great.

I suggest a place like REI, which may be running sales on styles and equipment from the previous year. I found what seemed like a good deal on ski goggles that are sealed around the eyes, but also have an anti-fog design. They are quite comfy, and help seal the nose bridge part of my face mask.

As to your other follow-up question, this recent Boston Globe article seems to emphasize bringing in outside air: Experts say some classrooms may need an air purifier — and offer advice on sizing (Aug. 19, 2020) "Experts from Harvard University and the University of Colorado have developed a downloadable calculator to determine how powerful an air purifier is necessary to help keep kids in classrooms safe from the coronavirus. [...] Memo Cedeno Laurent, associate director of the program and one of the creators of the calculator, said the first steps to prevent airborne spread of the virus are to look into a building’s ventilation system to make sure it is drawing enough fresh air and is outfitted with filters that can screen out the virus, and to look at simply opening windows, which can provide a good supply of fresh, virus-free outside air."
posted by katra at 10:42 AM on August 23, 2020

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