A New Paradigm for Safer Schools

A Conversation with CDC and Education Leaders Regarding Infection Control Strategies for the Post-Covid Era

Recently, R-Zero hosted a panel discussion with former CDC official Dr. Paula Fujiwara, and school leaders from across the country – to discuss the challenges and successes in safely returning to in-person learning. 

Now, school districts across the country consider what protocols will continue into the new school year this fall. The CDC’s guidance to schools has remained focused on implementing a layered approach, including the use of protocols like wearing masks, hand-washing, social distancing and enhanced air disinfection/ventilation. Dr. Paula Fujiwara reiterates a similar message with her “multi-systems” approach to creating safer school environments in her discussion with R-Zero. Dr. Fujiwara shares the hierarchy of infection control as a proven system schools can use to help maintain safer indoor environments both today, and long-term. 

The key levels include: 

Administrative

  • Planning: Bring together experts from all disciplines, not just health experts. 
  • Policies: Dr. Fujiwara highlights that policies need to be written (and communicated) clearly. They also need to evolve as the information evolves. 
  • Practical Protocol: What do you actually do when someone becomes sick? 

Environmental (i.e. Engineering Controls)

  • This level focuses on the actual spaces themselves. The indoor spaces in which we need to provide protection. 
  • In the example of a school, looking at how we set up classrooms?
  • We need to focus on good ventilation. And as Dr. Fujiwara shares, one tool that should be considered: ultraviolet irradiation – something they successfully used during her work with tuberculosis.

Personal Protection

  • Something we’re all now familiar with… masks, washing hands, social distancing, staying home if we’re sick… and getting vaccinated. 

In Pennsylvania, Lee Ann Wentzel, Superintendent of Ridley School District, shared some of the unique challenges experienced in her district’s return to in-person learning.

“For us, learning never stopped. It changed.”

– Lee Ann Wentzel, Ridley School District

“And as the conversation changed… and the CDC guidance continued to change and evolve… we had to evolve the answer to how do we continue to deliver the best instruction possible, and make sure students can safely return to campus? The shifting guidance and direction was definitely a challenge for us, but there were three areas we focused on: 

  • Reducing the spread 
  • Maintaining healthy environments
  • And what our protocols would be… and how all of this would align with what the science was telling us. 

Over the course of this process, we came across R-Zero’s UV technology. We’ve successfully implemented Arc across our entire district, and have since seen our staff take incredible ownership of it – they’ve truly embraced this technology as part of our daily health and safety protocols. For our district, adding UV technology has enabled us to address disinfection beyond just using chemicals.” 

According to Kevin Quinn, Director of Facilities and Maintenance at Mundelein High School 120 in Chicago, IL, there was a period of time in the beginning of the pandemic where they needed to absorb the scope of everything. 

“Our high school has 392,590 square feet of curricular and co-curricular space. We knew we needed all mitigation efforts to be based on science. We evaluated the guidance provided by the CDC… oftentimes it was not clear or not as timely as we needed. So we started to evaluate everything that we had as far as transmission goes, including touch points and aerosolization. We were looking at the efficacy of the chemicals that we were using to disinfect classrooms and what time it would take us to accomplish the guidelines that were provided. Six foot distancing presented some challenges … and the use of chemicals has always presented some concern.”

Key elements in the decision making process were efficacy, efficiency, and community confidence. According to Quinn, “we looked at the efficacy of chemicals we were using to clean classrooms, and the time it would take to accomplish that. If a student had a health issue upon return… what does that protocol look like to get them safely back home, while still maintaining some semblance of a ‘normal’ school day?

“Now, instead of 72 hours… within 11 minutes we’re able to successfully turnover a classroom after a health concern.”

– Kevin Quinn, Mundelein High School 120

“We use Arc nightly across all Mundelein’s facilities, and students return safely in the AM. Implementing hospital-grade, sustainable UV-C across our campus has provided our team incredible flexibility and rapid response. It’s allowed us to get back to a “close to normal” school day. It’s also provided a great sense of confidence for our school community… knowing that our protocols are effective… and that people are coming back to a space that is safe. And we haven’t had a positive case since we added UV-C to our daily protocols.”

Watch the full [recorded] panel discussion here.

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