A Q&A with SMH Infectious Disease Specialist Manuel Gordillo, MD
A recent query from a reader to our Ask An Expert panel sought practical advice for teachers on COVID-19 prevention as they make plans to head back to the classroom. We reached out to Sarasota Memorial infectious disease specialist Manuel Gordillo, MD, for an answer; below are his expert insights for educators returning to schools.
N95s Masks for Teachers?
Recently, I saw a Facebook post advising teachers to wear N95 masks in the classroom when they return to in-person teaching. It suggested teachers purchase five N95 masks, so they can wear them each once a week, then let them sit for a week to allow germs to die. What is your advice? Any other practical prevention steps for teachers to use when schools open would be appreciated! ~ Jessi L.
N95 masks are designed for use by medical personnel who are trained to use them properly; N95s are not intended for non-medical professions. To take full advantage of an N95 mask's protection, it must be form-fitted to the wearer's face through a specific process. Compared to cloth / disposable procedural masks, N95s are more difficult to breathe in and are more challenging to get a good fit.
Any face covering a teacher wears must be comfortable and easily breathable since he/she will be wearing it for hours at a time during the school day. I would advise teachers against using N95 masks. Instead, I recommend teachers wear either disposable masks or cloth face masks plus goggles and/or a face shield. This mask and eye protection combination protects both the wearer and those with whom they are in close contact.
In cases where the teacher can maintain proper distance from others (6 feet or more) or where a physical barrier (like a plexiglass partition) is installed, wearing just a mask without eye protection will suffice. We do not recommend a bandana-style face covering for teachers or others who have prolonged close contact with people from outside their own household.
At the end of each school day, teachers should discard used disposable masks or launder cloth face masks. Having at least 5 or 6 cloth masks on hand is advised, so you can wear a clean one each day without having to do laundry every night.
For added precaution, we do recommend changing into clean clothes and washing your hands and face once you get home after the school day. Equally important for COVID-19 prevention are staying home when you’re not feeling well; practicing safe physical distancing (6 feet or more) whenever possible; frequent hand hygiene with soap and water or hand sanitizer with at least 60% alcohol; and proper mask handling and wearing.
The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) further encourages students and staff to take everyday preventive actions including appropriately covering coughs and sneezes, and disinfecting frequently touched surfaces. Supervise young children when they use hand sanitizer to prevent their swallowing alcohol, and help them learn how to properly wash hands and to handle and wear a face mask.
For more CDC guidance on novel coronavirus prevention for teachers and schools, click here.
Video Q&A: For more medical expert insights on safely returning to schools during a pandemic, click here to check out our July 30, 2020 Ask An Expert video Q&A with infectious disease specialist Manuel Gordillo, MD, who leads Sarasota Memorial's Infection Prevention and Control Department, and First Physicians Group pediatrician Deirdra Myers, MD.
* NOTE: Information above was last updated July 20, 2020. Information related to COVID-19 is continually evolving. For the most up to date info, we recommend visiting the CDC’s website.