Coronavirus (COVID-19) - Tips

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Education Providers: Grades K – 12

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Introduction

This document is intended for education providers and administrators as an overview of potential hazards in the workplace due to COVID-19.

In all cases, guidance from local public health authorities must be followed and general COVID-19 prevention practices should be implemented, as outlined in this page.

Considerations when assessing risk in a school setting

  • The risk of transmission increases when you are in closed spaces with poor ventilation and in crowded places with people outside of your immediate household. Risk is higher in settings where these factors overlap and/or involve activities such as close-range conversations, singing, shouting or heavy breathing (e.g., exercising). Consider how many people are present, age of the children, how long they will be there, how close they will be to each other, and whether interactions are occurring in a crowded or enclosed indoor setting.
  • Ability of children to follow the recommended personal preventative measures based on their health, age, disability, developmental status, or other socio-economic and demographic circumstances. Is additional supervision required?
  • Ability to provide students with flexible attendance and alternative methods to attend classes.
  • Frequent contact with high-touch surfaces or shared items such as door handles, chairs, tables, faucets, etc.
  • Availability of supplies and facilities necessary for frequent hand hygiene.
  • Risk of severe illness, or if they live with a person who belongs to a higher risk group.
  • Maintaining confidentiality and privacy protection for the individual.

Control Measures to Help Reduce the Risk of COVID-19 Transmission

Each workplace is unique. It is important for employers to work with their health and safety committee or representative (if available) to assess the risks of COVID-19 for their specific workplace and implement appropriate hazard controls using the hierarchy of controls (i.e., elimination, substitution, engineering controls, administrative policies, and the use of personal protective equipment (PPE) and non-medical masks). Use a layered approach by including multiple personal preventive practices to protect yourself and others from COVID-19.

Physical Distancing

  • Follow your jurisdictional occupancy limits to determine the number of people allowed in the facility.
  • Maintain the greatest physical distance possible (at least 2 metres) wherever possible, including separating desks and limiting the number of people allowed in the same room.
  • Manage how individuals will use or travel through shared spaces, such as hallways and washrooms. Mark one-way routes, and use floor markings, signs, and other visual cues.
  • Have children face the same way for as many activities as possible. Stagger meal and snack times, if possible. Spend more time playing outdoors.
  • Consider blended teaching methods using both distance learning and face-to-face instruction where appropriate.
  • Hold lessons outdoors, if possible, and as weather permits.
  • Where possible, stagger the beginning and end of the school day, class schedules, recess, breaks and lunch to reduce groups of people from gathering.
  • Consider using libraries, gyms, outdoors, portables, and other locations as additional classroom space.
  • For younger students when physical distancing is more difficult, consider keeping the students in smaller groups or cohorts, and maintain at least 2 metres between the cohorts.
  • For older students, consider having teachers rotate to classrooms instead of the students (e.g., have students remain as a cohort in one classroom for the day).
  • Limit the number of users in common areas at the same time, such as the washrooms, gym, library, or cafeteria.
  • Postpone or cancel assemblies or other large gatherings where physical distancing cannot be maintained.
  • Clean and disinfect or avoid sports equipment, climbing structures, shared swings, slides, and other equipment.
  • Restrict non-essential visitors from entering buildings, including parents/caregivers, and contractors, as appropriate.
  • Allow administrative staff to work from home whenever possible.
  • Consider creating additional break areas, including outdoors, for staff.

Ventilation

  • Make sure that heating, ventilation and air conditioning (HVAC) systems operate properly.
  • Increase circulation of outdoor air as much as possible by opening windows and doors or other methods. However, do not open windows and doors if it poses a safety risk.
  • Avoid blowing or circulating air from one person to another using powerful portable cooling fans as it might increase the spread of COVID-19. Adjust building ventilation systems and air conditioning units instead.
  • Adjust ventilation systems to:
    • Increase filtration efficiency to the highest level appropriate for the system.
    • Increase fresh air flow/percentage of outdoor air (increase percentage of outdoor air in HVAC air supply, open windows, and doors, etc.).
    • Limit use of demand-controlled ventilation; keep system running at the optimal setting.
    • Explore the use of portable high efficiency particulate air (HEPA) filtration units.
  • Consult an HVAC professional before making changes to the ventilation system.

Use of Non-Medical Masks (NMMs)

  • Follow the recommendations for types of masks and ages as issued by your public health authority.
  • Masks should not be worn by anyone who is unable to remove the mask without assistance (e.g., due to their age, ability or developmental status).
  • Masks should be well constructed and well fitting, covering the nose, mouth, and chin. Encourage people not to touch their face or mask with unwashed hands.
  • Masks should not be worn by anyone who is unable to remove the mask without assistance (e.g., due to their age, ability, or developmental status).
  • Be aware that non-medical masks have limitations, and improper mask use and disposal can increase the risk of infection.
  • Stay informed as guidance is evolving regarding the use of face shields. They are not a suitable replacement for face masks but can provide eye protection.
  • Change your mask if it becomes wet or soiled. For example, you may wish to bring a second mask, and store in a clean paper bag, envelope, or container that does not trap moisture. Store reusable soiled masks in a separate bag or container. Do not touch the outside of the mask while removing it and wash your hands when you are finished.
  • For some children, not being able to see an adults’ face and mouth clearly may cause difficulties. Consider using a transparent mask. Staff may also opt for eye protection (such as face shields) when in close physical contact with children. Guidelines or recommendations from your local government or public health authority may also apply within the facility.
  • Do not allow the mask to be a hazard to other activities, such as getting caught on moving machinery or playground equipment.

Use of Personal Protective Equipment (PPE)

  • Continue to use PPE for existing occupational safety hazards and emergencies, as directed by applicable laws and your employer.
  • Situations where PPE may be considered for protection from COVID-19 include:
    • Wearing gloves when cleaning as recommended by the product’s safe work instructions or safety data sheet
    • Wearing disposable gloves when cleaning blood or bodily fluids (e.g., runny nose, vomit, stool, urine)
  • If workers will be required to wear PPE, they must be trained on how to wear, work with, care for the equipment, and understand its limitations.
  • Clean and disinfect any shared personal protective equipment before you wear it.
  • Wash hands before wearing and after removing gloves.

Personal Hygiene

  • Promote good hand hygiene and respiratory etiquette:
  • Cough and sneeze into your sleeve and not your hand. Provide tissues and dispose of used tissues in plastic-lined receptacles.
  • Wash your hands frequently with soap and water or use an at least 60% alcohol-based hand sanitizer when soap and water is not available:
    • at the start of shifts
    • before eating or drinking
    • before preparing food
    • after cleaning up meal and snack times
    • after touching shared items
    • after using the washroom, changing diapers, or helping others with toileting
    • after handling garbage, and
    • before leaving your workspace.
  • Set up hand hygiene stations near the entrance of the facility and close to each classroom so students and staff can clean their hands before entering.
  • Provide tissues and no-touch plastic lined garbage bins for their disposal.
  • Discourage the sharing of items such as phones, tablets, equipment, belongings, books, or toys unless they are cleaned and disinfected between users.
  • Post signs that are appropriate for age, ability, reading level and language preferences to remind individuals to practice good hand and respiratory hygiene.
  • Provide adequate supplies for hand and respiratory etiquette such as soap, an alcohol-based hand sanitizer (at least 60% alcohol), paper towels, tissues, and no-touch waste containers.
  • Include infection prevention as part of daily lessons and activities, while making sure that content is age appropriate.
  • Discourage food and drink sharing. Encourage individuals to bring their own pre-filled water bottle. Water bottles should not be shared.
  • Designate a clean and disinfected area for storing food items brought from home.
  • Train all staff on how COVID-19 spreads, the risk of exposure, and the infection control practices in place. Post signage at entrances and other areas as reminders.

Facility and Classroom Hygiene

  • Develop a cleaning schedule and document when cleaning has taken place.
  • Clean and disinfect washrooms frequently and stock with soap and paper towels.
  • Clean and disinfect classrooms, gyms, cafeterias, etc., and commonly touched surfaces such as computers, teaching and learning aids, tables, chairs, door and window handles, light switches, etc.
  • Use a household or commercial disinfectant to destroy or inactivate the virus.
    • Use approved hard surface disinfectants with a Drug Identification Number (DIN). This number means that it has been approved for use in Canada.
    • Read and follow manufacturer’s instructions for safe use of cleaning and disinfection products (e.g., wear gloves, use in well-ventilated area, allow enough contact time for disinfectant to kill germs based on the product being used).
    • If approved household or commercial disinfectant products are not available, hard surfaces can be disinfected using a mixture of 5 mL of bleach (5% sodium hypochlorite) and 250 mL of water. Test surfaces before using a bleach solution. Bleach can be corrosive. Follow instructions for safe handling of bleach.
    • Follow the manufacturer’s instructions for cleaning high touch electronics (e.g., touch screens, pin pads, keyboards, tablets). If liquids can be withstood, disinfect with alcohol or disinfectant wipes containing 70% alcohol.
    • Only use toys or equipment that can be easily cleaned and disinfected.
  • Use disposable cleaning cloths and gloves.
  • Safely dispose of garbage at least once a day.
  • Provide custodians with adequate supplies, training on cleaning protocols, and personal protective equipment as needed.

Activities and Services

Physical education:

  • Allow adequate time between each group to minimize interactions between groups of people, for air exchange, and for cleaning and disinfecting.
  • Consider creating dirty/clean or colour-coded signs to clearly indicate equipment status.

Music, Band, Theatre, and Choir:

  • Singing indoors may transmit the virus. Maintain the greatest physical distance possible (at least 2 metres).
  • Performers that are members of the same household would be at less risk and could sing or play music together while being distanced from others.
  • Organize the choir or band formation so individuals are not facing each other directly or standing directly (less than 2 meters) behind each other.
  • While more studies are needed, there is a possibility of virus transmission when playing wind or brass instrument (i.e., an instrument that is played by blowing air into it). Consider the length of the instrument and direction of airflow an extension of the individual and included when determining the spacing between musicians.
  • Students and staff should not share equipment (e.g., mouthpieces, reeds, harmonicas, music stands, microphones, musical instruments, accessories, etc.), song books, sheet music or devices with electronic sheet music. If they are shared, disinfectant wipes or an adequately diluted bleach solution should be available for frequent cleaning and disinfection.
  • Do not share props or items between members unless the item can be cleaned and disinfected between each use.
  • Wash hands promptly if a shared item must be touched.
  • Click here for more information on singing, music and theatre.

Libraries:

  • Limit the number of people in the library at one time to help maintain physical distancing.
  • Minimize the use of computers and other shared items, when possible, and clean and disinfect between users.
  • Consider putting shared items that are difficult to clean, such as books, on “hold” for at least 24 hours before being used by the next person.

Cafeteria and food services:

  • Continue to maintain the greatest physical distancing possible. Limit the number of people in the cafeteria at any given time.
  • Spread people out as much as possible, consider allowing students to eat meals in classrooms or outdoors, if appropriate.
  • Increase staff-served options. Do not use self-serve or buffet style options. Remove shared food items, condiments, and utensil stations.
  • Use touchless payment options, if possible.
  • Consider how meals will be provided to those students participating in meal programs, including during school closures or reduced programming.
  • Click here for more information on restaurants and food services.

Screening and Care

  • Encourage employees to stay home if they are sick or might be sick. Follow self-assessment steps from the Public Health Agency of Canada or your local public health authority.
  • Screen your employees and others before they enter your workplace, following the recommendations provided by your local public health authority. Active screening may be legally mandated in some jurisdictions and involves asking questions about a person’s health and possible exposures. Use a checklist or questionnaire provided by your local public health authority. Follow your organization’s protocols when using rapid antigen detection tests (RADTs) as part of your active screening process.
  • Anyone who does not pass screening should not enter the facility, should wear a medical mask (if unavailable, wear a well-constructed and well-fitting non-medical mask), return home (while avoiding public transit as much as possible), contact their health care provider or local public health authority and follow their advice.
  • If a designated person is screening individuals in person, the screener should maintain the greatest physical distance possible (i.e. at least 2 metres) and wear personal protective equipment (gloves, masks, facial or eye protection, etc.) as appropriate.
  • Information will also be required to support contract tracing. At a minimum, ensure that employee, children and essential visitor names and contact information is collected, updated, accurate, and available. Be prepared to identify the location where individuals were working and who they may have come into contact with before the onset of any symptoms or a COVID-19 test.
  • Review your procedures for responding to a sick person at work:
    • Continue to encourage workers and others to self assess and report any symptoms, even if mild. Ask workers to self isolate, wash or sanitize their hands, and wear a mask (preferably a medical mask) until they can return home.
    • If the sick person is a child, contact their parent/caregiver to take them home immediately, and to seek appropriate medical attention. In an emergency, individuals may need to be sent directly to the hospital.
    • Consider preparing a separate area away from others in advance, such as the first aid room, an empty office, or a seat behind a barrier, if space is limited.
    • Call 911 for assistance if the sick person is severely ill (such as difficultly breathing or chest pain).
    • Clean and disinfect any surfaces or items that the sick person has contacted. Close off all areas the person used or was in. Consider common areas (e.g., washrooms), and any shared items (e.g. touch screens).
    • Increase air circulation in those areas by using the ventilation system or by opening doors and windows.
    • Wait 24 hours, if possible, before cleaning the areas.
    • Continue to follow routine procedures for cleaning and disinfecting.
    • Additional cleaning and disinfecting are not necessary if seven or more days has passed since the person who is sick or tests positive for COVID-19 was in the facility.
    • Provide information to workers on employer leaves of absences, sick benefits, and alternate government benefits.
    • If a person at the school is confirmed to have COVID-19, contact your public health agency for guidance.
    • Continue to use appropriate precautions and procedures for safety, providing assistance for minor injuries, or emotional distress.

Transportation

Shared transportation, such as buses, can increase the risk of spreading the virus.

  • Encourage alternative modes of transportation for those who have other options, such as parents/caregiver drop off, or walking (if safe and within close distance) to limit the number of people needing to use public transportation and school buses.
  • Parents/caregivers should remain in their vehicles during drop-offs and pickups.
  • Stagger start and end times to avoid congestion.
  • Designate multiple pick up and drop off areas at the school to assist with physical distancing.
  • Have staff greet students as they arrive where needed or add bus monitors to provide assistance.
  • Work with your transportation providers to determine methods to help reduce the spread of the virus.
  • Maintain the greatest distance possible between passengers when using public transportation and school buses, when possible. Students from the same household may sit together if space is limited. Use of non-medical masks may also be requested or required.
  • Frequent cleaning and disinfecting of buses as required, especially between groups of riders.
  • Limit the number of people allowed on a bus. Assign or mark seats where people can sit to maintain physical distancing.
  • Open windows, if possible and safe to do so.
  • Consider installing physical barriers (e.g., plexiglass) for the bus driver when maintaining physical distancing is not possible.
  • Consider having passengers use hand sanitizer when entering the bus.
  • Control how passengers enter and exit to maintain physical distancing.
  • Click here for more information on transportation.

General Recommendations

  • In the event of an emergency, follow established emergency response procedures.
  • Perform regular inspections and hazard assessments to identify potential ways individuals may be exposed to COVID-19.
  • Evaluate new COVID-19 preventative measures before using them to make sure new health and safety risks are not created (e.g., propping fire doors open).
  • Regularly communicate COVID-19 news and measures to all parties to help manage stress and anxiety.
  • Understand that in some situations, recommendations and measures may change or vary depending on the current stage of the pandemic, as well as the child’s age and their abilities.
  • Develop a business continuity plan to minimize disruptions including increased staff absenteeism, and procedures for periods of higher restrictions based on public health measures.
  • Promote mental health services for staff and families.

It is important that mental health resources and support are provided to all workers, including access to an employee assistance program, if available.

For further information on COVID-19, refer to the Public Health Agency of Canada.

Note that this guidance is just some of the adjustments organizations can make during a pandemic. Adapt this list by adding your own good practices and policies to meet your organization’s specific needs.

Disclaimer: As public and occupational health and safety information is changing rapidly, local public health authorities should be consulted for specific, regional guidance. This information is not intended to replace medical advice or legislated health and safety obligations. Although every effort is made to ensure the accuracy, currency and completeness of the information, CCOHS does not guarantee, warrant, represent or undertake that the information provided is correct, accurate or current. CCOHS is not liable for any loss, claim, or demand arising directly or indirectly from any use or reliance upon the information.

Document last updated March 15, 2021