Masks and PPE

March 23, 2021

There is no doubt that masks work, but the question arises of which masks are the most effective. According to Swamy, it is not imperative to have KN95 masks, let alone N95 masks. The most important element of a mask is its fit.

“We want everyone to be wearing a mask that, number one, is well fitted. It’s far less important what kind of mask it is, but it’s really important that it’s well-fitted, even if you’re wearing an N95,” Swamy said. “If an N95 is leaking, it’s not a very good mask. It’s really much more about a good seal across your whole nose and mouth than it is about the filtration of the mask itself.”

The use of more advanced filtration masks would be to help people feel safer as opposed to really mitigating the spread, but as Swamy said, a feeling of safety is still important. $30,000 has been committed by community members to PSB to allow for more enhanced PPE, but these funds have yet to be directed.

Swamy said that the district and schools need to consider what factors are the most important in regards to safety before money and resources are spent.

“I don’t want the school to be in a position where they’re going to be committed to spending a lot more resources that they don’t have on something that really doesn’t add that much safety,” Swamy said.

One of the biggest challenges of in-person learning is unmasked times, which at the high school is only lunch, but at the K-8s there is also an allotted snack time during the day. The high school has access to large spaces, such as the auditorium, and there is less concern about students breaking rules. It is still paramount that there is supervision of students during unmasked times, as Swamy said that there is a natural tendency to do things wrong. Unmasked times represent one of the radical differences between in-person learning at the high school versus the K-8 schools, where students eat supervised in their respective classrooms.

According to Gacioch, there are three safe and low-risk options for unmasked times that the high school should aim to follow. In order of preference: to eat outside and try to keep a six foot distance, to maintain a six foot distance inside in a well ventilated space for a limited duration, or to maintain a three to six foot distance inside a well-ventilated space with physical droplet barriers for a limited amount of time.

Though these are all considered to be safe options, the consensus is to push to stay outside.

“The answer is outside. The answer is always outside. And the question is, why can’t we? We should all be asking ourselves over and over again, is it really that the weather is so bad that we can’t be outside and eat? Because it’s such a benefit,” Swamy said.

Gacioch also emphasized the importance of duration and frequency when it comes to unmasked times.

“If we’re able to get people outside two or three out of five days during lunchtime, every one of those times that you can do it outside rather than inside makes a difference in terms of further lowering risk,” Gacioch said.

Mason affirmed that in the coming weeks students can expect to be outside for lunch unless there are extreme weather circumstances.

“Now that the weather’s changed, that’s going to help a lot because we’re just going to push kids outside here, and there {at OLS} we’ll be pushing kids outside,” Mason said.

In the event of extreme weather conditions, Mason said that the high school will utilize both the auditorium and the cafeteria to ensure low numbers of unmasked students in each of these indoor spaces.

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