PPE and Facemask Considerations for Schools

October 06, 2020

Getting students and staff to wash their hands or use hand sanitizer more frequently is going to be challenging enough. Getting them to wear face coverings or any other PPE could test your patience. But every school nurse knows the important role PPE plays in helping prevent the spread of germs. The team here at FaciliSafety is here to support you in your herculean efforts.

PPE
Gowns, gloves, goggles, and face shields are PPE that most staff or students will not need to wear at school. However, school nurses, health assistants, janitorial and maintenance staff, and anyone who performs the tasks below will need to use these infection-prevention items when:

  • Cleaning and disinfecting
  • Working on/maintaining HVAC systems
  • Providing care to a staff member or student suspected of having Sars-COV-2
  • Working with students with disabilities or special healthcare needs who cannot wear a facemask or require close contact for their instruction and daily care

These higher-level products are in high demand, so closely monitor your school's supply. Additionally, make sure staff knows how to properly don, doff, and dispose of PPE.

Face Coverings (Facemasks)
The CDC strongly encourages the use of masks to slow the spread of COVID-19, and many states and cities now require them in any indoor public space. Your school will have unique situations to consider when adapting and enforcing mask rules.

When Facemasks or Face Coverings are NOT Appropriate

There are situations and instances when facemasks should not be used, including on:

  • Children under the age of 2
  • Anyone who has trouble breathing or is unconscious
  • Anyone who is incapacitated or otherwise unable to remove a mask without assistance

When Alternatives to Facemasks or Face Coverings Are Appropriate
There are several situations where a school may need to think out of the box and develop alternatives to standard facemasks and face coverings. Because of their developmental stage, younger students (early elementary) may find prolonged use of masks challenging. Additionally, students and staff who are hard of hearing or deaf, have special physical or intellectual needs, or have a respiratory condition (such as severe asthma) will also require nontraditional face protection. Consider the following alternatives:

  • For deaf or hard of hearing staff or students, transparent facemasks or masks with clear-view patches are a suitable alternative (transparent face shields are not recommended alternatives to facemasks)
  • For students or staff who cannot tolerate prolonged wearing of masks, determine prioritized times when masks should be worn
    • Build schedules and routines around these prioritized times.

Mask Recommendations for Students
Using CDC guidelines, we've developed the table below to help inform your school's mask usage policies. Adaptations and alternatives should be considered to increase mask-wearing compliance and reduce the risk of COVID-19 spreading.

 

Situation

Masks recommended

Masks should be considered

Additional

considerations

< 6' apart on school bus or carpooling

X

< 6' apart while entering/exiting school

X

≥ 6' apart in the classroom

X

< 6' apart in the classroom or engaging in activities that require close contact

X

< 6' apart while transitioning between classes or to other activities during the school day

X

Recess and physical education class

X

Vigorous indoor exercise should be limited because it may contribute to transmission of COVID-19

Band, choir, or music class

X

When students are not singing or playing an instrument that requires the use of their mouth, they should wear a mask in music class (unless class is outdoors and distance can be maintained)

≥ 6 feet apart during mealtimes in a common area

X

Mask are recommended when transitioning to and from mealtimes if outside of the classroom.

An assembly or event that requires close contact

X

Masks should be worn by teachers and staff at all times and are especially important at times when social distancing is difficult to maintain.

Students with severe asthma or breathing problems

X

Masks should NOT be worn by children under the age of 2 or anyone who has trouble breathing, is unconscious, incapacitated, or otherwise unable to remove the mask without assistance

Student is deaf or hard of hearing or relies on lip reading to communicate

X

Transparent masks may be considered for teachers or staff who interact with students who are deaf or hard of hearing.

Student has a disability, childhood mental health condition, sensory concern/tactile sensitivity

X

Alternatives to masks may need to be considered. Consult with parents, caregivers, or guardians about strategies to protect these students and those around them.

Student is receiving one-on-one services or instruction

X

 

Considerations for Facemask Use, Longevity, and Care
The school day will have mask-free opportunities for students and staff. Proper precautions should be used for donning and doffing masks.

  • Wash hands or use hand sanitizer before and after removing masks.
  • Masks should be removed by their ear loops or ties; avoid touching the front of the mask.
  • Masks should be placed inside a resealable plastic bag labelled with the wearer's name.
    • Consider using bags for mask usage during the day. Each bag should be clearly marked with the mask status (clean, in-use, or dirty) or the day of the week, and the owner's name.
      • Three-bag option: "clean" bag to hold an unused supply of masks; "in use" bag for that day's mask; "dirty" bag for masks that need to be laundered.
      • Bags-of-the-week option: label five bags with the days of the week and use accordingly. At the end of the day, the bag/mask should be discarded (if disposable) or taken home to be set aside for decontamination (see below), or laundered if reusable.

Proper care of masks is important for them to remain effective.

  • Disposable masks, preferably, are discarded after one day's use or if they become wet or otherwise compromised. If they're used longer than one day, place the used mask in a clean container (paper bag, resealable plastic bag, or plastic container with a lid). Label the container with the date and "decontaminating". Based on current information, it should be safe to use again in 2-3 days. Disposable masks should be thrown away when they become visibly dirty or damaged.
  • Reusable masks should be laundered after every use. They can be washed in a washing machine or handwashed in hot, soapy water (scrub for at least 20 seconds). Dry in a dryer on high heat. Reusable masks should be discarded if they develop rips, tears, or holes or become threadbare.

Create a Culture of Positivity
Wearing masks regularly is one of the biggest changes we've faced during this pandemic. It is a constant reminder that COVID-19 is still with us. But there are a few ways to help students adjust to this new normal.

  • Children learn by example, so encourage parents to wear masks at home and to talk about it with their children; teachers should model this behavior by following the school's mask policy without exception.
  • Encourage parents to let students pick out their masks or the material used to make them.
  • Include reminders in daily announcements and newsletters.
    • Use positive messages like "we wear masks to keep everyone healthy" or "we wear masks so others don't get sick".
  • Display age-appropriate, eye-catching posters that instruct and/or remind students about why we wear masks and how to wear masks properly.
  • For middle and high school students, incorporate videos and short lessons about how to wear a mask.
    • TIP: Consider using PSA-type videos by popular athletes, musicians, or celebrities.
  • For students with special healthcare needs, ask parents to practice wearing masks at home to support mask wearing at school; use behavioral techniques at school to help them adjust and increase compliance.

Bullying or stigmatizing between students could be an unpleasant side effect of your mask policy. Reinforce your school's antibullying policies by letting students know mask shaming will not be tolerated.

  • To help students understand why a fellow student may not be wearing a mask, be transparent about why these exceptions are allowed – include the exceptions in any instruction about mask policies.
  • Masks are becoming fashion accessories. Consider updating school dress-code policies to include them.

Some parents may not agree with your school's policies on the use of facemasks. Be sure to have a plan to address any challenges teachers and staff may encounter if students refuse to wear facemasks or won't wear them properly or if their parents raise objections.

 

In This Together
By letting students and staff know that we are all in this together, school nurses can help foster a safe environment in schools. FaciliSafety is in this with you. If you need help sourcing items to keep your school safe, our team is here to answer your call.





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