COVID-19 Safety Guidelines for Specific School Spaces
Upper Grade Classrooms
Kindergarten and Lower Grade Classes
Activity patterns of students and teachers in lower grade classrooms (Kindergarten to Grade 2) are distinct from the upper grades. Students tend to be more mobile throughout the day and much of the day is spent near or on the floor. Young students in these classrooms are also less likely to follow rules regarding face masks, hand hygiene and physical distancing. To encourage preventive behaviors, teachers can play health education games with students. These games could cover topics including:
- sneezing into their elbow (‘be a vampire’),
- effective hand hygiene (‘wash off the paint or glitter’)
- mask use (‘decorate your mask’)
While physical distancing with younger students may prove challenging, classroom furniture can be rearranged with activity stations spaced at least 2 meters or 6 feet apart. Toys, shared supplies and high touch surfaces are recommended to be cleaned and disinfected between groups of students. Supply of disinfectant wipes in the classroom will facilitate frequent use by teachers on contaminated surfaces and items. Placing a hand sanitizer bottle in the classroom can encourage use by students, and students can be taught to remind each other, or be reminded by the teacher.
While athletic programs are a significant component of school life, participation in contact team sports presents a high risk of transmission of the COVID-19 virus. Schools should assess the risks of disease transmission in each sport. Skill-building activities can be physically distanced in lieu of playing contact sports. Swimmers in adjacent lanes can start at opposite ends of the pool so that they are not swimming together the entire time. Decisions regarding phased return must be made for each sport. Schools should consider canceling inter-school athletics competitions to limit interaction between students and teachers from different schools. Division get-togethers, team meetings, team demonstrations are recommended to be held virtually. Precautions should be taken for sport activities held in indoor gymnasium spaces. All students on sports teams would likely benefit from education on disease control and discussion of the importance of a "shared-responsibility" mentality. The symptoms of students on sports teams should be checked regularly. Non-touch temperature checks before training, practices, competitions may help mitigate risks. Outdoor practice sessions are recommended as much as possible.
Masks are recommended while playing sports, in particular when indoors. Shared items and surfaces should be cleaned and disinfected between student groups. Good hand hygiene can be promoted by placing hand sanitizer around the gymnasium. Many gymnasiums have high ceilings and are equipped with dedicated mechanical ventilation systems which have the potential to provide effective levels of ventilation. To ensure increased ventilation is provided for students and teachers in this space for physical education classes or sports practices, available HVAC systems should be operated with demand-controlled ventilation disabled to allow the highest levels of outdoor air to be brought in while the gymnasium occupancy levels are relatively low. Gymnasium spaces may have large HVAC capabilities that could be repurposed by the school to hold other classes or events. In gymnasiums that are mechanically ventilated, use of operable windows and window-mounted box fans may be used to further increase ventilation levels.
Restrooms are a high-risk space for disease transmission. In restrooms, virus germs are not only transmitted from human-to-human and human-to-object, but also can be generated and spread by flushing toilets. The SARS-CoV-2 virus has been found in fecal samples of COVID-19 patients. In order to decrease the risk of disease transmission, occupancy limits should be set for each restroom. If a line forms, students must keep at least 2 meters or 6 feet of physical distance. Markers can be used to indicate 2 meters or 6 feet spacing. Frequent cleaning and disinfecting during the school day is recommended to minimize risks of surface contamination. Automated infrastructure in restrooms (automatic doors, touchless faucets, soap dispensers, towel dispensers and toilet flushers) can be used to reduce touch of high use surfaces. Instructions on proper hand-washing techniques can be posted by the sink area together with a clock that students can use to monitor the time spent washing their hands. If students follow the 20 second guidance for hand-washing, aerosol and droplets sprayed by hand dryers will not likely present disease risk; however, paper towels are recommended given that many younger and even older students may not adhere to recommended procedures. Placement of hand sanitizer by doors may also encourage good hand hygiene.
Increased ventilation in restrooms will also be critical in limiting airborne transmission; exhaust ventilation should be confirmed to be functioning properly and should be left on at all times when the school is occupied.
Cafeterias are viewed high-risk spaces in schools. Wearing face masks is one of the most effective disease controls; however, the mask usage cannot be enforced due to the need to eat. To limit the number of occupants in the cafeteria, lunch periods can be staggered. Students should be encouraged to eat their lunches with their pod outside (weather permitting) or in their assigned classroom. Students can be encouraged to bring a packed lunch from home if possible. Alternatively, a grab-and-go style lunch can be offered by the school to avoid long queues that extend contact times between students and between students and food service staff.
To reduce risk of transmission while not wearing masks, students can be asked to eat lunch at tables that are physically distanced. Multiple students can be accommodated at a table using plexiglass barriers. Aerosols will be released by students while speaking during lunch. Release will be great with vocalization. Students should be asked to speak quietly, which is recognized to be potentially challenging with plexiglass barriers. To monitor sound levels, a noise monitor with a visual indicator can be placed in the cafeteria.
Placement of hand sanitizer bottles at accessible locations in the cafeteria will facilitate good hand hygiene. Access to disinfectant wipes on tables will further encourage students to wipe down surfaces before and after eating.
Evaluating ventilation options will be critical in this space. Mechanical ventilation is recommended to be operated at appropriate total supply air flow throughout the day. Since many building HVAC systems cannot be continuously operated at 100% outdoor air, a short purge cycle can be run between groups of students to bring in more fresh air in between use. For naturally ventilated spaces, operable windows should be used. Air can additionally be exhausted outdoors using outward-facing window-mounted box fans. Multiple units can be installed depending on the size of the cafeteria.
Hallways and Stairwells
Schools should make arrangements to dedicate rooms to be individual isolation areas. Students that develop COVID-19-like symptoms during the school day should be taken to this space until they are able to safely return home. Isolation rooms are recommended to be located on an exterior wall to maximize ventilation options and have exterior exits to eliminate infected individuals from mixing with healthy staff and students. It is recommended this space include a bed, if the child needs to lie down and all other furniture be removed to facilitate cleaning and disinfecting protocols. Ideally, a dedicated bathroom will be available for students requiring use of this space. For the purposes of contact tracing, anyone who enters the isolation room should be logged. Anyone who enters the designated isolation room must use appropriate Personal Protective Equipment (PPE). Efficient ventilation systems are critical for isolation rooms. Negative pressure should be maintained in the isolation room to limit dispersion of air into adjoining spaces. Schools should target to have 6 to 10 air changes per hour of total air in this space. For schools with mechanical ventilation, return air from isolation rooms should be exhausted directly outdoors. Schools with natural ventilation can use a window-mounted box fan to exhaust air outdoors. If weather permits, this isolation area can be outdoors in a tent.