We are lucky to have a number of parents with expertise in medicine, design, building and research on our team to help assist with the building of barriers to be used in reconfigured classrooms when we return to school.
Barriers are not required, but are being used widely in school settings in Anchorage, across the US and internationally. The CDC has recommended barriers for use in many settings where social distancing isn't possible. It has made these recommendations very specifically in retail and manufacturing settings, as well as in school settings. Here is a CDC document about school best practices that lines that out.
Here's the text of the CDC recommendation:
"Install engineering controls, including modifying work areas using physical barriers, incorporating required accessibility requirements, and improving ventilation, where feasible."
The barriers do not prevent Covid spread. They are just an additional tool to help mitigate spread along with masking, ventilation, social distancing, classroom reconfiguration, handwashing and other health procedures. We know that the disease is spread through aerosolized particles (like when people are singing or shouting), droplets, and through “fomites” or objects or surfaces that can carry infection.
The architect-made design the parents are working on producing is a single pane of lightweight plexiglass in a very simple base. It is both sturdy and can be easily cleaned. Because of the cost of materials, the cost, per student, for materials is roughy $40, though we are looking at ways to source materials that may reduce cost. Some classrooms may need to add tables for eating and work that can be easily cleaned and allow for barriers to be used. We also are working on funding hepa filters for the few rooms with no exterior windows.
The barriers can be especially useful during unmasked times when students are eating as a way to stop the transfer of droplets and reinforce social distancing by dividing space, helping with the fomite concern. They are light and extend slightly above children’s heads when they are seated but are not so large as to impede the overall airflow in the classroom.
Our group began the barrier construction process by interviewing teachers and staff and then did a survey of parents. Parents’ main concerns included being able to effectively social distance in the classroom, and finding ways to reduce transmission between students and between students and teachers. The barrier plan is pointed at these concerns.
(There are other concerns and needs that teachers and parents have identified. We are working on a subcommittee that might next take on some of these concerns.)
The next step in our process, a team of parents measured the tables available in each classroom, created a CAD drawing of each classroom and developed a budget that would allow for us to buy materials for barriers that we can create ourselves. We are still working both at fundraising and reducing production costs. Another team of parents has been building prototypes and scouting materials. A test prototype should be in the school this week.
We will begin our work in the kindy and primary classrooms, and look forward to more conversations with parents and teachers.