Tips for Safe School Lunch Period in a Pandemic

Top 10 Tips for COVID-19 Protection During School Lunches

After a year of at-home learning, school resumed this fall despite the ongoing coronavirus pandemic. However, classrooms still present the risk of COVID-19 spread, especially with younger children who cannot get vaccinated. That risk increases in the school cafeteria. 

During lunchtime, students are in close quarters and must remove their masks to eat, meaning the COVID virus can spread more quickly. Therefore, school officials and boards must adopt safe lunch protocols and improve air quality to keep the spaces and the students and teachers within them as safe and healthy as possible.

To help school officials make the school lunch period safe for students and staff during the pandemic, here are the top 10 tips.

Top 10 Tips For Making School Lunch Period Safer During Pandemic

1 - Practice Physical Distancing Where Possible

With the threat of the virus remaining, school officials must try to enforce physical distancing where possible. Staying physically distant can be challenging in tight, indoor spaces, like school classrooms and enclosed cafeterias, but it is still possible. 

  • Rearrange tables, so at least six feet remain between them, allowing students to take off their masks and eat safely. 
  • Add visible signage in the cafeteria, reminding students to stay at least six feet apart when standing, moving around, and sitting at tables. 
  • While you do not have to remove them physically, consider cordoning off high-traffic touchpoints, like salad bars and self-service areas, as they can quickly spread the SARS-CoV-2 virus.

2 - Create Split Lunch Periods and Limit Capacity 

By its very nature, the lunch period is a social get-together. For everyone’s safety, it is recommended to have various lunchtimes throughout the day.

  • Stagger or split lunch periods. Students may feel they are safer from the virus with fewer students around, which may also have the effect of deterring them from leaving campus for lunch. 
  • Keep the lunchroom capacity at 50% to ensure the cafeteria is not overcrowded. 
  • You can also schedule in-class lunches on a rotational basis to lessen the workload on the cafeteria and sanitization staff. 

3 - Change School Lunch Procedures

Changes in operations will help students feel comfortable and safe in the cafeteria. Of course, the right plan will depend on the floorplan of your school lunchroom and other factors like your school’s size and the number of students. However, you can minimize the number of surfaces students touch by implementing several new practices to reduce the chance of spreading COVID-19. 

  • For instance, serve prepared bagged lunches—organized by student preference and allergy considerations—ready and on the table when children arrive. The bagged lunches can be placed at assigned seats or assigned tables, with a limit of four students to a table.

4 - Implement Hand-Washing and Hand-Sanitizing Stations

More hand-washing or hand-sanitizing stations will alleviate the need for students to wait in line to wash their hands in the bathroom. 

  • Place hand-washing or hand-sanitizing stations throughout the cafeteria, encouraging students to clean and disinfect their hands more frequently. 
  • Invest in a quality hand-sanitizing station like Sanalife's Smart Dispense Pro, an ​​all-in-one, high-capacity hand sanitizer. It comes with an advanced temperature scanner, cloud connectivity, badge scanner, and mobile app so you can easily monitor and track changing body temperatures in your students. 
  • With Smart Dispense Pro sanitizer stations, you can detect temperature spikes and catch potential COVID cases at your school before they spread. 
  • The hand sanitization storage tank allows you to use any standard sanitizer fluid and dispense up to 6,000 times without being changed. The Smart Dispense Pro makes it possible to make it through the lunch period without running out of hand sanitizer. 
Hand Sanitizing Station Within Educational Facility.
Hand Sanitizing Station Within Educational Facility

5 - Use Air Purifiers

Air purifiers are an affordable and effective way to improve air quality indoors at your school.

  • Utilize portable air purifier units that can easily be plugged into wall outlets and cycled through large spaces. 
  • Air purifiers increase the air exchanges within the lunchroom to improve the filtration of viral particles during high traffic times. 

Portable air purifiers with ActivePure Technology are proven to reduce 99.98% of SARS-CoV-2 viral particles. Sanalife's portable air purifiers with ActivePure technology provide real-time protection and helps keep students safe from airborne and surface contaminants.

6 - Improve Ventilation in School Lunchrooms

The air within the school cafeteria is often filtered through the school’s heating, ventilation, and air conditioning (HVAC) filtration system, which often uses HEPA filters. However, some upgrades would further improve air quality in the lunchroom.

  • Upgrade the HVAC system to improve ventilation within the school and cafeteria. Which can bring in fresher, cleaner air more often and then pump the clean air out from the source. 
  • Upgrade the filtration within the HVAC system to MERV 13 filters for improved filtration. 
  • Implementing an ActivePure HVAC induct unit in your existing HVAC system can help sanitize the air within the ductwork. As the air is circulated through the ducts, the ActivePure technology eliminates airborne contaminants, such as mold, bacteria, and viruses. 

School lunchrooms should consider HVAC induct upgrades to supplement air purifiers and physical distancing protocols. 

7 - Designate Areas for Students with Health Conditions

Students with pre-existing health conditions are at an even greater risk of complications from the coronavirus. With that said, steps must be taken to protect students with conditions that make them more susceptible to airborne and surface pathogens.

  • Establish designated spaces in the lunchroom for these students to lessen their risk of contracting COVID-19. Implementing these controls would need to be done in coordination with other procedural changes to ensure continuity. 

While you would not want to isolate at-risk students, you could consider a separate lunchtime for them. On the other hand, students may wish to be completely separated from others or, instead, might prefer to have more physical barriers around them. It is best to consult with and involve students with health conditions to understand their needs better. 

8 - Clean and Disinfect Cafeterias and Kitchens Regularly

Sanitization and disinfection protocols will need to be comprehensive, more frequent to ensure the safest environment possible. Many recommended best practices for COVID mitigation encourage sanitization both before and after each meal in cafeterias and kitchens. 

  • Have cleaning staff spray and wipe down all the surfaces and high-touch areas in the cafeteria. 
  • Implement UV-C disinfection protocols, such a Sanalife's UVD Autonomous Robots. 
  • UV-C robots can be used to disinfect air and surfaces, eliminating 99.9% of pathogens.
  • The UV-C robot is especially helpful when staffing is a problem.
  • The robot can be programmed to autonomously or remotely roam and disinfect up to 150,000 square feet.
  • As a result, the robot relieves your staff from overwork and eliminates the need to hire more workers.
School Cafeteria Kitchen Serving Station.
School Cafeteria Kitchen Serving Station

9 - Consider Implementing Social and Classroom Cohorts

Establish Classroom Cohorts, where students are in groups that spend their day together—kept apart from other student groups—can offer protection in the classroom and cafeteria. When students remain in their cohort, exposure is reduced, minimizing the spread of germs and the COVID virus.

  • Organize cafeteria tables based on homeroom assignments, allowing students to remain with their classmates. 
  • Students could still sit together within their cohort and get the social interaction they missed during remote schooling.

10 - Encourage Current COVID Best Practices

Regardless of the changes made in the cafeteria, it is imperative to continue to encourage COVID best practices. For example, masks should be worn when students are not eating. Students should also wash their hands frequently, including the use of hand-sanitizing devices. 

As of Fall 2021, the Centers for Disease Control (CDC) made the following updated recommendations: 

  • Promote vaccination so students can continue in-person learning and participate in extracurricular activities. 
  • Require universal indoor masking by all students older than 2, staff, teachers, and visitors to K–12 schools, whether vaccinated or not, due to the Delta variant. 
  • Maintain at least three feet of physical distance between students in classrooms. 
  • Layer multiple prevention strategies to protect unvaccinated students, especially if maintaining a physical distance of at least three feet is impossible.
  • Layered strategies include screening testing, improved ventilation, handwashing, and respiratory etiquette.
  • Students and teachers alike should stay home and get tested when sick.
  • Implement contact tracing, quarantine, and isolation for COVID cases. 
  • Clean and regularly disinfect to keep schools safe.
  • Monitor community transmission, vaccination coverage, screening testing, and outbreaks to guide decisions about ongoing prevention strategies. 

Staying Safe in the Lunchroom Through the Pandemic

Staying safe through the pandemic has been an ongoing challenge and will continue to be one. While children have been allowed to return to in-person learning, school lunchtime increases the risk of spreading the SARS-CoV-2 virus and the Delta variant at your school. 

Some of the tips provided above can be simple to implement. For others, however, you may have to contact your school administration, as they might affect budgets and change current processes. 

It is essential to continue monitoring CDC guidelines and recommendations, follow best practices for COVID-19 prevention in schools

If you are in search of air quality or surface disinfection solutions, please reach out to us at Sanalife to help you determine the best strategies and solutions for keeping your students and teachers safe.

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