Expert Advisory Panel 4 discusses best course of action for hybrid learning



Amid rising case counts in Brookline, concerns over hybrid learning have prompted a discussion of the necessary precautions.

Expert Advisory Panel 4 discussed various safety precautions and recommendations for hybrid learning during their Zoom webinar panel on the afternoon of Nov. 6.

David Gacioch, Partner at McDermott Will & Emery LLP shared his thoughts on social distancing when in a school building.

“Whenever feasible, we should be targeting distances of at least six feet, when universal masking is not in place, such as during meals, snacks, and mask breaks, physical distancing of at least six feet should be strictly maintained at all times,” Gacioch said.

Member Benjamin Sommers pointed out that evaluating the baseline risk plays an important role in comparing the risk of transmission to distance.

‘There is no magic line at 6 feet…no single point that says well now we are safe and before we were not,” Sommers said.

The response to a concern about inconsistencies with protocols regarding open windows was that the ventilation system in place is equipped for closed windows, but keeping windows and doors open is beneficial, said Gacioch. The panel does not think schools need to rely on keeping the windows open, especially during cold weather.

There are four air changes, meaning when air in classrooms entering and exiting the rooms through the HVAC system, per day. This number may need to increase as the schools attempt to occupy more students with less distancing, according to the panel.

As the hybrid model for the high school becomes available, the panel is expecting the number of positive cases for remote learners and for in-person learners to diverge more. Students who have stayed fully remote are less likely to participate in high-risk activities, causing it to become increasingly difficult to differentiate behaviors and risk factors.

The Panel has four main guidelines, keeping the average daily positive case count in Brookline less than ten, the average daily case count per 100k in Massachusetts less than 10, the average test positivity rate in Brookline less than 5%, and the average test positivity rate in MA less than 5%, to focus on during the transition to hybrid. If any of them are not met, the panel will need to reevaluate their recommendations.

As of Nov. 6, the average daily new case count per 100k in Massachusetts is about 14, failing to meet the guideline, according to data from the Department of Public Health (DPH).

During the panel, Performing Arts Curriculum Coordinator Kenny Kozol brought up his concerns about specialist teachers who are required to go into all Brookline schools. Kozol said that he worries about the added potential student exposure and the lack of clear communication.

Kozol reported visiting a school for teaching purposes and was later not notified of a COVID-19 case within that same school. The Panel agreed to review the schedules of specialists in order to gain a stronger understanding of this issue.

Keeping personal protective equipment on is a crucial part of the transition to hybrid, according to the panel. COVID-19 is transmitted through water droplets and airborne particles, both of which are being combated separately, explained Benjamin Linas, Infectious Disease Physician at the Boston Medical Center. The ventilation fights the airborne aspect, while mask-wearing fights water droplet transmission.

“All of us on the panel are relying on personal protective equipment (PPE) entirely,” Linas said.