General measures recommended for the functioning of schools during viral epidemics

This report was produced in April 2020 by a team of specialists in the fields of architecture, medicine, biology, engineering working  within  the  project  “Safe Interior” to produce Design Strategies for Increased Safety in the Use of Interiors for Schools and Offices.

In the context of the need for schools to operate during epidemics, several measures should be taken to prevent and limit the transmission of viruses by:

  1. maintaining a safe distance between users of the building
  2. limiting the number of people touching an object/surface
  3. limiting the contact which persons might have with surfaces touched by others
  4. maintaining a healthy air quality and limiting the spread of infections through proper ventilation
  5. cleaning, sanitizing and disinfecting spaces and surfaces
  6. reducing the stress level of building users

A set of general measures which can be immediately taken in existing educational buildings, without substantial investment and remodeling, are thus the following:

  • Ensure that every student in the class has a dedicated fixed space which s/he will use throughout a given day. This would limit student traffic throughout the building and reduce the possibility that an infected student may contaminate several students/desk surfaces in each day of instruction. This measure involves the re-organisation of the timetable, as well as providing teachers with dedicated carts for teaching materials as these might be moved in and out certain labs. Moving students around the school (for lab use) will only be done for those lessons which require special equipment and furniture for students.
  • The minimum surface allocated per student in the classroom shall increase to a minimum of 4mp/pers in order to maintain a safe distance between students during the courses. This measure drastically reduces the capacity of most classroom to 1/2 the capacity of initial area – the implementation of this measure is mainly possible only by modifying the curriculum and timetable and by extending the building (which presupposes setting up “portable” classrooms, see Canadian model). Since modifying/increasing the actual building surface might not be possible in many cases, the first recommendation for such epidemic periods is to reduce the number of topics or to reduce the hours/ per subject.
  • Limit the number of doorknobs/ or doors by establishing an “open doors” policy for all classrooms, labs, teachers’ and principals’ offices etc. for the duration of the epidemics.
  • Removal/dismantling of doors which are not necessary (ex: first row of doors to group lavatories or sanitary facilities, which can be later on replaced with a labyrinth-type entry)
  • All access doors to the courtyard/ building will be used to distribute entrance/exit traffic. A plan will be put in place as to how traffic flows assigning entrances per age group / class
  • When the exterior temperature allows, all classes will be held in classrooms where a window will be permanently kept open for good natural ventilation and to reduce potential viral load in the air
  • Between classes, classrooms will be aired for at least 10 min by leaving all windows open.
  • Sanitary groups will be cleaned after each break, by washing the floor, disinfecting the toilets, faucets, doorknobs, light switches.
  • Hand sanitizer dispensers will be installed at every entrance/exit of the building, in each classroom, amphitheater, laboratory, toilets.
  • Floor signaling will be mounted to indicate safe distances between users in all locations where crowding may occur (hallways, waiting areas) 
  • In case electronic communication of topics/homework is not possible, measures are recommended to delay the taking/correction/distribution of written materials (books, papers on paper) to limit the transmission of viruses. It is recommended that such paper materials will be kept in controlled storage for at least 5 days since last handling (submission/editing/comments/return dates).
  • Sanitizing products will be delivered to teachers and students, such as masks, gloves, disinfectant wipes etc.
  • Teachers, admin stuff and students will be instructed on proper hand washing, mask wearing, use of interior and exterior spaces within the school.

Implementation of the above measures is critical in limiting the transmission of viruses and represents a set of minimum measures. These need to be complemented by robust administrative measures to be communicated to all parties involved (teachers, students and parents) in order to ensure a good cooperation towards limiting infections and germ spread.

Other measures involving new investment in equipment and space remodeling include:

  • Equipping classes with UV-c air purifiers, which can disinfect the air during the study hours.
  • Equipping the school with UV-c germicide light movable lamps with timer/programmer for disinfecting the surfaces of the interiors of classes and corridors after-hours, during night-time and during the weekend – these cannot be used while people are present in the space to be disinfected by the lamp as they are extremely harmful. For this reason, it is recommended that they are installed with a protected switch, which is only accessible to authorized personnel which had been trained in this respect.
  • Equipping each classroom with a lavatory
  • Equipping the school with an online learning platform and tablets/computers, so that homework is transmitted only electronically, avoiding the transmission of contaminated papers between the parties.
  • Replacing switches/ faucets/ toilet flaps with no-touch devices/sensors.
  • Adding devices which would allow doors to be opened by foot instead of operated by hand.
  • Change classroom furniture to comply with social distance recommendations.
  • Installing an air extraction plant for toilets.
  • Redesign classrooms, labs, offices, circulations, etc. to maintain safe distance.
  • Introducing strategies to reduce level of chronic stress and to reduce the level of cortisol (which may cause the activation of viruses) by playing music during breaks, install individual relaxation spaces where students/teachers can have meditation breaks etc.

Every educational institution is encouraged to hire an auditor who will determine the appropriate measures to be taken in each specific case.

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