By Ken Roy
Posted on 2021-05-03
Coronaviruses have been found in a diverse array of bat and bird species that seem to act as natural hosts. Molecular clock dating analyses of coronaviruses suggest that the most recent common ancestor of these viruses existed around 10,000 years ago. Now fast forward to late 2019: The world learned about the COVID-19 virus shortly after a cluster of severe pneumonia cases were reported on New Year’s Eve in the city of Wuhan, China. From there, COVID-19 developed into a worldwide pandemic. It has had a major impact worldwide on all areas of life.
Most definitely included in this impact have been schools. In less than a year, the pandemic brought about new types of instructional modalities, including hybrid and virtual learning, and a new school community featuring Zoom meetings, socially-distanced classrooms, and students wearing masks, stuck in their seats, harkening to the sterile classroom environment of a foregone compliance-based educational system.
At this time, many schools across the country are planning to have students return to face-to-face, on-site instruction. This commentary will review current updates in students/teacher safety protocols for science/STEM laboratory work.
The Centers for Disease Control (CDC) has had a number of changes in recommendations for school instruction, resulting from scientific research findings over the last year. The following is an updated list of the most recent safety protocols to help protect students and teachers actively working in school science and STEM laboratories.
What are the current recommendations for cleaning common surfaces in science and STEM laboratories? The following is a basic list of considerations.
When considering cleaning delicate surfaces or electronics, the following are basic procedures that should be used.
Finally, when cleaning PPE, the following two-step protocol should be adopted.
Early in April, the CDC released the latest recommendations on when and how to use disinfectants. (See https://www.cdc.gov/coronavirus/2019-ncov/community/disinfecting-building-facility.html.)
As previously noted, cleaning simply by using soap or detergent as cleaning agents helps to reduce germs on surfaces. These cleaning agents can remove the contaminants and also may weaken or damage some of the virus particles, therefore decreasing the risk of infection from surfaces. When no people with confirmed or suspected COVID-19 are known to have been in a space, cleaning once a day is usually enough to sufficiently remove the virus that may be on surfaces and help maintain a healthy facility.
Disinfecting by using EPA’s List N products (see https://www.epa.gov/sites/production/files/2020-06/documents/sars-cov2_listn_06122020.pdf) will kill any remaining germs on surfaces. This further reduces any risk of spreading infection. Disinfectants should be used only after general cleaning has been first completed. The CDC recommends either cleaning more frequently or disinfecting (in addition to cleaning) in shared spaces under certain conditions, including the following:
Again, teachers should check this CDC website (https://www.cdc.gov/coronavirus/2019-ncov/community/disinfecting-building-facility.html) for specifics on how and when to disinfect laboratory surfaces, equipment, etc.
With the advent of increased access and use of vaccinations in the population, along with additional research, the following protocols are recommended by the CDC.
Being vaccinated is an excellent layer of protection against the coronavirus. However, vaccinations only make you safer. If you are vaccinated, you still need to remain masked and follow social distancing protocols in your school. For more information, consult these links:
On April 27, the CDC relaxed mask guidelines for vaccinated individuals who are outdoors or with family members in enclosed spaces (see https://www.cdc.gov/coronavirus/2019-ncov/vaccines/fully-vaccinated-guidance.html). Despite these changes, masks should still be worn in schools. Depending on your state and local school board, you may still have to wear masks on campus while outdoors. Check with your building’s principal for more information. The CDC is continually monitoring the situation and updating its website. Please periodically check their website for accurate and complete information.
Over time, with the advent of additional science research and applications for reducing or ending the COVID-19 pandemic, there will be a continued evolution, and in some cases, revolutionary changes on how to deal with the COVID-19 virus through safety protocols. Teachers and administrators need to check the CDC’s and other websites regularly to address these changes. Hopefully the end will be in sight sooner than later!
One final note—Cleaning up after laboratory work has always been the standard safety protocol; nothing new! Remember that chemical and biological hazards (flu virus, bacteria, etc.) exist to which students and teachers may be exposed. In this way, using the original COVID-19 safety protocols for cleaning, sanitizing, and disinfecting also helps to lower risk of exposure to all of these hazards.
For additional updated CDC protocols, see Operating Schools During COVID-19: CDC’s Considerations: https://www.cdc.gov/coronavirus/2019-ncov/community/schools-childcare/
Submit questions regarding safety to Ken Roy at firstname.lastname@example.org or leave him a comment below. Follow Ken Roy on Twitter: @drroysafersci.
Safety Blog Acknowledgement: NSTA Chief Safety Blogger Dr. Ken Roy wishes to sincerely thank nationally recognized District Supervisor of Science Kevin S. Doyle, Ed. D., Morris Hills Regional District, Rockaway, New Jersey (email@example.com) for his professional review of and contributions to this commentary.
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