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.
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.
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.
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.
More hand-washing or hand-sanitizing stations will alleviate the need for students to wait in line to wash their hands in the bathroom.
Air purifiers are an affordable and effective way to improve air quality indoors at your school.
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.
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.
School lunchrooms should consider HVAC induct upgrades to supplement air purifiers and physical distancing protocols.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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:
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.
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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