Updated health screening guidance, issued April 28, 2021
UFT industrial hygienists answer your most frequently-asked ventilation safety questions in this short video.
To read the DOE's document on HVAC & ventilation procedures and policies, go to: HVAC Protocols for School Reopening
With New York approaching herd immunity due to so many citizens being vaccinated against COVID-19, will safety guidelines still remain in place in NYC schools?
Yes. Governor Cuomo recently announced that the number of New York State adults who have received at least one dose of the COVID-19 vaccine is 69.9%, just .01% away from the 70% that would give us herd immunity. When New York reaches 70%, the governor said he will make COVID-19 guidelines — including capacity restrictions, social distancing, cleaning and disinfection and health screening — optional for most businesses. The restrictions will not be lifted for pre-K to 12 schools and public transit, among other locations.
When will New York City schools be implementing the updated CDC three-foot guidance for social distancing in schools? Which schools will be adopting these new guidelines?
Beginning Monday, April 26, 2021 some 3-K, pre-K and K–5 schools may adopt the CDC’s recent three-foot guidance for social distancing in order to accommodate newly opted-in students and/or expand in-person learning to five days a week. Principals were required to devise plans to update their social distancing guidelines and superintendents must have approved these plans before implementation. Middle and high schools will not be modifying their social distancing guidelines at this time. Visit the DOE website to read their protocols for implementing the CDC's guidance in schools.
What safety guidelines were considered when designing these new social distancing protocols?
UFT representatives visited schools to help create safety protocols for implementing the new guidelines and used the following practices in their planning:
- When calculating 3 feet, the distance was measured from the middle of one chair or desk to the middle of the next. That area is considered the breathing zone, or where a student’s mouth and nose are located, essentially the exposure sources. Chairs and desks should face the same direction in a room.
- When students are eating, the distance must be six feet when masks are removed. Outdoor or large indoor spaces such as gyms, libraries, auditoriums or any other common-use spaces may be used to ensure proper distance is maintained.
- Schools must maintain 6 feet at all times between staff and students, staff and other staff, and everyone in common spaces.
- Current safety protocols, including routine COVID-19 testing, surface cleaning and sanitizing, universal mask wearing, good ventilation, and routine hand washing or hand sanitizing must be maintained.
- Additional recommendations, including guidance about lunch protocols, are on the DOE’s Opt-in Resources InfoHub (requires DOE log in).
What measures can we take if social distancing guidelines are not being followed at my school?
If any safety issues arise at your school, let your chapter leader know. If no resolution can be reached, you can notify the UFT using the Operational Issues Complaint Form on the union’s website. You can select "safety" from the list of issues on the form and then select the option, “3-foot rule.” Type in a description of the issue at your school, and a UFT representative will reach out to you to help resolve the issue.
Do classroom windows have to be kept open to provide adequate ventilation?
The DOE recommends increasing the circulation of outdoor air into buildings to ensure strong indoor ventilation by lowering the concentration of an airborne virus, such as the one that causes COVID-19. In general, if your classroom or office has operable windows, keep the windows and doors open. All windows do not necessarily have to be wide open, especially when it is raining, snowing or extremely cold outside.
What types of air filters will be used with school HVAC systems to help reduce the risk of COVID-19?
The DOE has purchased MERV-13 filters for school buildings with central HVAC systems. Approximately 13,700 filters will be shipped to schools starting on Nov. 15, with more deliveries arriving weekly. Filter distribution will be distributed on a priority basis according to the following criteria:
- Buildings where the majority of the instructional spaces are served by a central HVAC system
- HVAC systems serving inner core rooms
- Buildings with no windows or fixed glazing
- HVAC systems where air is recirculated
While schools are awaiting MERV-13 filters, HVAC systems should operate to allow in the maximum amount of outside air without potential damage to cold-sensitive parts in the HVAC units.
My school building does not have an HVAC system, but we do have windows that open. What steps are being taken to ensure we will have proper ventilation?
For buildings with operable windows, the DOE suggests that windows remain open approximately 3 inches as a general rule, which will provide enough outside air to dilute the virus. If your building also has air conditioning units, they may remain on if there are windows to open in the classroom as well. Custodial staff will operate all exhaust systems two hours prior to building occupancy and one hour after building occupancy.
The windows in my school building/classroom do not open. What procedures will the DOE be following to make sure our HVAC system is working well to provide adequate ventilation?
In closed systems with HVAC, the maximum amount of outside air should be circulated indoors during this pandemic. The DOE recommends custodians open the dampers on the roof to maximum capacity, which will improve indoor air quality. The air conditioning may not work as effectively but the quality of the air will be much improved. All HVAC equipment and the areas/rooms supported by these systems have been inspected by custodian engineers and will continue to be inspected daily to ensure proper operation. Custodial staff will operate all applicable HVAC equipment and ventilate buildings two hours prior to building occupancy and one hour after building occupancy.
Will schools be monitoring carbon dioxide levels to ensure air quality?
Yes. School custodians will be using indoor air quality monitors to check air levels. Acceptable levels of CO2 are considered to be lower than 1100 parts per million (ppm).
What can help keep my classroom comfortable for myself and my students during the colder months?
In many cases, custodial staff will arrive early during the winter to preheat the school building before the arrival of staff and students. They are supposed to maintain temperatures in the building at 68º F throughout the day if the outside temperature falls below 55º F. If the school is too cold, staff should moderate window openings and the chapter leader should reach out to the principal or custodial staff directly to ensure that the heating system is working. Space heaters may also be provided. Remember to dress in layers and bring additional warm clothes for yourself. Be sure to also remind students and their parents about the importance of dressing warmly for school.
What can I do to help increase air flow and maintain good ventilation in my classroom during the colder months?
The DOE recommends a window opening of about 3 inches, but it is not necessary to open both the top and bottom of a window. Not all windows in a classroom need to be open; one window is typically sufficient to maintain good airflow in a smaller room, and two open windows will work for most larger rooms. Keep your radiators clear on top and bottom to maximize heat flow and keep any vents clear to make sure they can properly circulate air in your room. You can keep your classroom door closed which helps circulation flowing through air vents and windows, and also helps keep heat in your room.
Will schools be receiving any air purifiers to increase ventilation over the winter months?
The DOE has ordered 10,000 HEPA-rated air purifier units. A minimum of two filters per building, one for each nurse's office and isolation room, have been delivered to schools. Additional air purifiers are being used to support additional spaces with ventilation concerns, including bathrooms with non-working exhausts and classrooms requiring mitigating measures, such as interior spaces without windows, rooms awaiting repairs, etc. Another 20,000 have been ordered and will be distributed on the following priority basis:
- Rooms with limited windows and no mechanical ventilation
- Rooms with operable windows and mechanical ventilation awaiting repairs
- Inner core rooms with no windows but which do have HVAC systems
- Buildings waiting for MERV-13 filters and which also have reduced outside air supply to maintain building temperatures in cold weather
How much personal protective equipment supplies will schools have on hand to provide to staff members?
The DOE has promised to ensure that schools will always have a 30-day supply of PPE on hand and will replenish those supplies on a daily basis if necessary. If your school lacks appropriate PPE, please report this to your UFT chapter leader as soon as possible.
Who monitors the amount of personal protective equipment in each school building and how do schools obtain more supplies as needed?
The school custodian will maintain the school’s supply of personal protective equipment. Schools should have a 30-day supply of PPE on hand at all times. The DOE will deliver more supplies to schools as needed. All of these health and safety supplies are provided free of charge to the school. If you need personal protective equipment, speak to your chapter leader or the head of your COVID-19 building response team.
How do we get access to and distribute the PPE at my school?
We all have the right to access PPE at any time it is needed. Schools should have a 30 day supply of face masks/shields, hand sanitizer, and cleaning supplies. A process needs to be in place for staff to access the supplies they need on demand. You cannot be denied PPE, but there is a need for keeping it sanitary and to keep people from taking more than they need, so the process for distribution needs to be clearly defined within a school. The BRT teams should create and enforce a policy for PPE distribution. Any issues should be brought to your chapter leader.
Examples of school policies could include the following:
- A request can be made to admin and a custodian can bring the requested supplies to your room in a timely manner.
- A supply of masks or shields is kept at the entrances and given to people who request it at entry from a security guard or checkpoint staff member.
- A request for a specific number of items which would make up a week’s supply is submitted and that supply is delivered to your room in a timely manner.
What chemicals are being used in sprayers for disinfecting schools? Could they cause a health issue?
The DOE is using Purtab from Evaclean in their electrostatic sprayer. They will also be using Green Kleen. These products are on the EPA’s list of approved disinfectants for COVID-19. The active ingredient is sodium dichloroisocyanurate (NaDCC). It is a source of free chlorine when disinfecting and, as such, works the same as bleach. It is not a known carcinogen. Like bleach, it is caustic, but is marketed as less caustic when dissolved in water and a safer alternative to bleach. Cleaners should not be disinfecting with this product while the school building is occupied.
Who will be on the COVID-19 building response team (BRT)?
A school's COVID-19 building response team will be composed of:
- BRT Leader
- Special Needs Coordinator
- Emergency officer
- Assembly Point Coordinator
- School Nurse
- School Safety Agent/Agents
Assigning people to those positions should be a shared decision on a school level.
What happens if our school does not have a school nurse?
If there is no nurse, your school should remain remote. Having a school nurse is on our 50-point safety plan.