Speak Up! What you need to know about delta, ventilation, and safe school reopening.
Like me, you have probably been hearing “delta is different”. And what I’m also hearing is treating delta is different with unvaccinated children. Full disclosure, I am neither a pediatrician nor a science teacher. I do avidly consume research. And I am always an advocate for parents, caregivers, and their children.
We all know, students learn better when they learn in person. Nonetheless, many families have been reaching out to me with questions and concerns about our district’s ability to keep them safe from COVID. I want to support other families who are making tough choices right now as to whether to enroll medically vulnerable children into in-person learning. I also recognize that many families simply cannot survive financially with another year of “homeschooling”. They need us to keep our schools open and can’t miss work to quarantine exposed children.
With a disease nearly as contagious as chickenpox, I wanted to share information so families and educators can advocate effectively for safe in-person instruction.
Why is delta different?
Speak Up America is a “group of scientists, physicians, advocates, and organizers who are working to keep schools and communities safe”. Last evening, they held a Zoom meeting and answered many questions we all have about the virus and what we need to do to keep our schools safe.
I definitely recommend watching the video, but if you can’t, I did some of it for you. Here are some of my take-aways from some of the big picture recommendations:
- Delta is highly transmissible in the air.
- Indoors is far higher risk than outdoors
- Not wearing masks indoors in not a good idea
- If, you have to be indoors without a mask (say lunch) we really can’t be talking
- The person that carries the virus doesn’t have to be with you, they could have been in a poorly ventilated space before you
- Vaccinated folks can carry just as high level of virus, but they carry it for less time.
- While we should continue to practice as many safety measures as possible (e.g. social distancing, enhanced cleaning of surfaces etc.) air is the largest contributor to COVID spread
How do I choose an effective mask for my kid?
Linsey Marr (@linseymarr) says masks work to reduce the risk of contracting COVID.
See this presentation in English and Spanish from the NY Times.
Researchers say delta requires better masking. Make sure you and your child are wearing masks that are comfortable, fit well, and filter out the virus.
Click here to see a google doc describing how to pick a better mask for your child. There is also a list of high-quality filtered masks that are recommended.
Masked Up, Vaxed Up—what can we do to make classrooms more safe?
So, what can families do other than masking and getting vaccinated? It’s in the air we breathe. We know we can’t snap our fingers and hire more teachers
- Be outdoors as much as possible.
- Mechanical ventilation… “too much of America dragged it’s feet to” to signifigantly to improve HVAC systems
- Passive “natural” ventilation via windows. This is the cheapest, yet most unreliable forms of ventilation.
- Mechanical window fans can help increase air flow of clean outdoor air and decrease indoor air. In places where it gets too cold or when air quality is not safe (forest-fire season) they are not a viable option
- Portable HEPA Air Filters are the MOST EFFECTIVE means to protect children in our classrooms. These actually clean the air and can be purchases or even BUILT. (Instruction are in the video.)
- We can monitor air quality by monitoring CO2.
What families can do?
I’m sorry to say, but I’ve been sounding the alarm since last fall that we need to work at all levels to improve ventilation in our classrooms. My rationale was that by making classrooms safer, vulnerable families would be more likely to opt for in-person instruction. We have seen countless surveys and studies showing Black, Latinx, and especially Asian American families in our district were expressing concerns for their safety in our classrooms.
(See my discussion with SF Department of Public Health staff at the Joint Select Meeting on Friday, November 13, 2020, below or go directly to the video starting at 58:05. Note that Commissioner Moliga, current chair of the Building and Grounds Committee was present during these meetings.)
Unfortunately, my calls for investments in our classroom air quality were often characterized by some elected leaders and vocal school “reopener” groups as delay tactics. This is far from the truth. As an educator with over 25 years of experience in our district, I know our schools are a product of deferred maintenance. I and fellow educators knew that if we wanted to get ahead of fall forest fire season, we needed to get support from city and community leaders to ensure the safe reopening of our schools.
We are where we are. As a parent who is currently entrusting the safety of my children’s (and family’s) health to an SFUSD school, I am continuing to sound the alarm for improved ventilation.
I will be posting more about this in the days ahead. In the meantime, let’s get educated together. Below is a list of resources to help us get informed as we advocate for the safe re-opening of our schools.
If you only have time to read one article
…this article from the Schott Foundation is a good start. It lists loads of data and information and also has a helpful toolkit for families who want to advocate for healthy air quality in their schools!
… including handouts and presentations? Go directly to the Speak Up America website and go to their resource section to download any of the presentations in the video.
SF Department of Public Health Resources
- Novel Coronavirus (COVID-19) Information on Schools, Childcare, and Youth Programs
- Health Officer Orders and Directives
- Current San Francisco case numbers and Press Releases
- DataSF Schools Reopening Dashboard for the status of TK-12 schools for reopening
- DataSF COVID-19 Cases in School
- FAQs: Portable Air Cleaners (SFDPH, 11/13/20) [Spanish] [Vietnamese] [Chinese] [Russian] [Tagalog]
News Storis, Research and Articles
- ‘It is worrisome’: 1st COVID, now wildfire smoke plagues return to school for Bay Area students – ABC 7 News
- What we now know about how to fight the delta variant of COVID – Tampa Bay Times
- Outbreak Associated with SARS-CoV-2 B.1.617.2 (Delta) Variant in an Elementary School — Marin County, California, May–June 2021 – CDC
- Excess of COVID-19 cases and deaths due to fine particulate matter exposure during the 2020 wildfires in the United States – Science Advances, a publication of the American Association for the Advancement of Science
- COVID Turned a School Ventilation Crisis into a Nightmare: Here’s How We Fix It – Schott Foundation
- Are schools making kids sick? – CNN
- How to Approach COVID-19 In the Newton Public Schools for the Start of the 2021-2022 Academic Year – Drafted by Dr. Ashish Jha, dean of the School of Public Health at Brown Univeristy, et al. for the safe reopening of Newton Public Schools
View Past SFUSD Board Meetings to see what we’ve been talking about
- SFUSD Planning to Increase Supply of Portable Air Cleaners – SFUSD website
- SFUSD Building and Grounds Meeting 08-23-21 – Cheif Dawn Kamalanation reviews plans to purchase air purifiers
- Regular Meeting 8/24/21 – President Gabriela Lopez and I announce a resolutionf for a Roadmap for a COVID Recovery and more questions about air purifiers are discussed
- Boarddocs archive of meeting agendas (click the link to meeting and then the item to review presentations and other uploaded documents.)