According to a study that looked at a simulated school day, children have difficulties in storing their masks and maintaining a 2m distance in classes that had more than 15 learners. The Toronto Hospital for Sick Children carried out a two-day school simulation comprising of more than 190 children and 15 teachers in mid-August. The study aimed to observe the way COVID-19 guidelines would work in a school setting. The simulation, which was done in-class learning sessions, lunch, and recess, encompassed students of all ages.
On Monday, researchers at the hospital released their “initial observations” showing children being crowded at school entry points and were not sure where to put their masks during recess, making some masks to become dirty and requiring replacement. However, the full results of the study are not yet available. The observations also noted that unless classrooms were limited to just 12 to 15 students, it was impossible to maintain a two-meter distance between students.
Dr. Clyde Matava, the co-principal investigator of the study, said that teachers across the province are likely learning, or have already learned as they return to school. Clyde said they are hoping the complete release of the initial findings will foster conversations between stakeholders to share instrumental knowledge on school safety that can only be gleaned from real-world settings.
The first observations, when it came to the end of the school day, noted that parents who wanted to talk with teachers in the simulation mostly did not put on a mask as they took their children outside. Communication was challenging as parents and teachers were forced to remain at a distance. The study also listed some considerations for teachers and schools to make an easier transition into class. This includes utilizing every existing door for school entry, particularly if the school administration needs screening at the door and for masks to be stored in clean.
Moreover, the study noted that staff needs to reduce the amount of time spent in the building as much as they can. This means that after school, they should leave immediately and go off-site during lunch hours if not supervising the students.
Dr. Michelle Science, the co-principal investigator of the study, said sharing key learning and best practices from simulations or real-world experiences could help enhance everyone’s safety measures as the school year progresses. Michelle added that what would strengthen their collective response to COVID-19 was having the flexibility to adjust the safety measures.
Though the hospital did not recommend the use of face masks, they released a comprehensive guideline for schools to reopen in June. This includes screening before students enter the school and an emphasis on hand hygiene. The researchers plan to have the full report peer-reviewed and published in such a publication though the latest observations were not released in a peer-reviewed journal. The remarks were otherwise intended to serve as “helpful considerations” for schools.