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  • Fumiko Docker

Back to School?

It's hard to believe it's already August, and we're going on month six of the "new normal" during this pandemic: wearing masks, social distancing, 20-second hand washing, and the public health and economic ramifications of a country in various states of lockdown or reopening.

As students and teachers return to school, here are 20 questions parents and teachers can ask to determine whether it's safe to return to school, contributed to by Dr. Joseph Allen, featured in this WELL webinar. It's a terrific discussion on the evidence and best practices for returning to school: "Keeping COVID-19 out of the classroom".

The webinar is available on demand (requires registration to view).

Hosted by the International Well Building Institute (IWBI), Dr. Allen, head of the Healthy Buildings Program at Harvard's T.H. Chan School of Public Health, discusses where the evidence is on COVID-19 transmission rates in kids and adults, and how schools, teachers, students, parents, and communities can safely return to school.

Recorded in July, the content is still pertinent for the present moment, where community transmission is ongoing, and as we head into the fall, schools grapple with reopening, whether their buildings are safe to reopen, and what strategies can be implemented to safely reopen.


* The evidence does support that kids, especially young kids, are less susceptible to COVID, on the whole suffer less if infected, and may transmit the virus less than young adults and adults.

* Creating a culture of health, safety, and shared responsibility is necessary to reinforce the safe reopening of schools - but takes leadership from the top, and participation by all.

* Increased ventilation of indoor spaces is critical to mitigating airborne transmission.

* If classroom or school indoor areas don't have direct outdoor air, air filtration by filters that can trap the smallest viral particles are necessary. Portable air filters can be deployed in all rooms where ventilation is poor.

* Masks (3 layers of fabric recommended), hand washing, hand sanitizer: the first, and very cost effective, line of defense against spread.

* Small pods and groups of students can enable interaction while limiting potential transmission.

* De-densification and distancing strategies include staggering arrival, departure, and travel times between classes, lunch times are cost effective means of limiting contact.

IWBI developed the WELL Building Standard over the last decade to bring public health and evidence-based best practices to designing, building, operating and maintaining buildings. Organized around 11 concepts (air, water, nourishment, light, movement, thermal comfort, sound, materials, mind, community, innovation), and tied to the biological systems they interact with, the standard guides, and certifies buildings, to include these public health strategies, measures and protocols to create environments for optimal health of people in buildings. WELL has since developed a Health-Safety rating in direct response to COVID, with evidence-based operations and maintenance protocols for protecting health.

As a WELL accredited professional, I've long been interested in the intersection between human health and buildings, and WELL is a way to implement evidence-based best practices to increase the health of people in buildings. Now more than ever, these evidence-based strategies will serve us in the face of COVID, and beyond.

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