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Drew: How Alabama Schools are Handling COVID Safety Concerns

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By Samuetta Hill Drew

With the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) recommending vaccinated people wear masks again while indoors with groups of people and naturally unvaccinated people should always wear masks when around others, there has been much hesitancy about requiring students and staff to wear masks in some school districts and/or private schools.
As of last week, 58 of Alabama’s 150 public school districts and charter schools are requiring masks for students and staff. Some of these school districts are Birmingham City, Fairfield, Bessemer, Hoover, Mobile, Mountain Brook, Gulf Shores, Pike Road, as well as some others. Jefferson County Schools have chosen to make wearing a mask optional. Note federal law requires masks be worn on school buses. Because of Alabama’s recent spike in COVID-19 cases (Delta variant) and hospitalizations some school districts have reconsidered.

Regardless of what side you stand with, proper ventilation is important whether the school students or employees wear masks or not, simply because of how the COVID-19 (Delta variant) is transmitted from one person to another. It is an airborne virus, so good ventilation reduces the number of virus particles in the air.

Wearing a well-fitting multi-layer mask helps prevent virus particles from entering the air or being breathed in by the person wearing a mask. When trying to increase ventilation, it is important to bring as much outdoor air in as possible. Some strategies the CDC recommends in helping achieve increased ventilation include:
• If safe to do so, open windows and doors. Even just cracking open a window or door helps increase outdoor airflow, which helps reduce the potential concentration of virus particles in the air. If it gets too cold or hot, adjust the thermostat, if possible. Do not open windows or doors if doing so poses a safety or health risk (such as falling, exposure to extreme temperatures, or triggering asthma symptoms).
• Use CHILD-SAFE FANS to increase effectiveness of open windows. These types of fans have a protective covering to help prevent students/staff from getting body parts (like fingers, etc.) or clothes from getting caught in the fan blades. Safely secure fans in a window to blow potentially contaminated air out and pull new air in through other open windows and doors.
• Consider having activities, classes, or lunches outdoors when circumstances allow.
• Make sure your HVAC systems are serviced and meeting code requirements. They should provide acceptable indoor air quality, as defined by ASHRAE Standard 62.1 for current occupancy level for each space. Home-based childcare programs should meet requirements established by their state and local regulatory authorities.
• For simple HAVC systems controlled by a thermostat, setting the fan control switch from “Auto” to “On” will ensure the HVAC system provides continuous air filtration and distribution.
• Consider running the HVAC system at maximum outside airflow for two hours before and after the building is occupied to refresh air before arrival and remove remaining particles at the end of the day.
• Make sure the restroom and kitchen exhaust fans are on and operating at full capacity while the school or childcare program is occupied and for two hours afterwards.

It is important that ventilation be taken seriously as schools Keep an Eye on Safety during this pandemic.