As the pandemic shows little sign of going away, and nations are confronted with a possible third wave, more than half of the world’s schoolchildren still face substantial disruptions to their education.
These range from full school closures, reduced academic schedules and lack of contact time with their most critical resource – their teachers.
In Estonia, the heart of the Baltic Silicon Valley, the Ministry of Education and several schools have taken to using more innovative technological solutions to keep schools open.
Because for schools to remain open, they need to have teaching and administration staff.
It’s why schools are piloting using wearable air purifiers for their teaching and admin staff to ensure a smooth continuation of children’s schooling.
Why teachers need to be protected from COVID-19
The closure of schools is damaging to children’s education. But schools are not merely a place for learning. They are places where children can socialise and develop emotionally.
The pandemic has caused more children to feel isolated and prone to suffering from sleep problems and reduced physical activity, as after school activities have also been suspended under lockdown restrictions.
But it’s not only the closure of schools.
The stress the pandemic has placed on families, with rising unemployment and financial insecurity combined with the distance learning required by parents, has put additional strain on already burdened families.
Schools, and the excellent work done by their teachers, are pivotal for the current generation of schoolchildren in stopping them from falling behind academically and providing a boost for emotional wellbeing.
Is a third wave on the way?
Lockdowns are beginning to be eased across several nations around the world. Still, with infection rates rising again due to new variants, it is causing many politicians to consider a delay in easing restrictions.
The Alpha variant (that was first detected in the UK) spreads up to 50% faster, worrying for countries speeding up their vaccination programmes.
The Delta variant (that was first detected in India) is causing havoc amongst the population. There is an alarm that this variant could reach Europe and trigger the third wave.
Politicians want to ease restrictions on their pandemic-weary populations after a series of lockdowns and closed schools. Yet, they do not want to trigger a surge in infections where the health services are stretched to breaking point.
To avoid lockdowns, the population will need to be vaccinated and take preventative measures to prevent transmission using face masks, boosting indoor air quality, and adopting UV technology solutions.
Why does indoor air quality matter during COVID-19?
SARS-CoV-2, as per other viruses, constantly mutate, and multiple COVID-19 variants are emerging.
Scientists are working on learning more about these variants and their spread, and how they could affect the severity of illness in people who get the virus, plus the effectiveness of the current vaccines.
According to the CDC, COVID-19 spreads when an infected person breathes out droplets and microscopic particles that contain the virus. Other people inhale these droplets through their noses, mouth or eyes.
In some cases, these droplets may contaminate surfaces they touch. However, this is now not considered to be the primary method for the virus to infect others.
Hence, it is considered that breathing out droplets from infected individuals is how the virus spreads so quickly. To reduce the likelihood of close-proximity transmission, it is safer to congregate in open spaces.
If that is not possible, then indoor air ventilation becomes of paramount importance.
Improving school classroom indoor air quality
Proper ventilation and air quality monitoring are better tactics when ensuring a safe learning environment for students and their teachers.
Indoor air quality specialists conclude that schools should prioritise and maintain the indoor air quality in the post-COVID-19 world.
Good indoor school ventilation replaces stale indoor air with a supply of fresh air from outside, diluting the virus’s concentration.
However, merely circulating air with fans is not adequate. After all, if only stale air moves around, it will still contain the microscopic virus particles.
Another strategy schools consider is keeping windows open to ensure better school ventilation. But when it’s cold or hot outside, or there is terrible inner-city air pollution, or allergy seasons, opening windows is not an option. Again, in some older schools, some windows don’t even open.
In that case, a building’s heating, ventilation and air conditioning, or HVAC, system may be a better solution.
However, in their efforts to combat the spread of COVID-19, schools are pursuing many strategies to improve school ventilation and air quality. Yet, these efforts have been hindered by ageing and inadequate buildings. Older buildings are incapable of merging with newer technological solutions.
For schools that can take advantage of HVAC systems, upgrading them has been successful and is proving popular, albeit expensive, considering the size of school buildings. However, the constant use of school HVAC systems can become very noisy, distracting students from hearing what their teachers are discussing.
Another tactic has been to sterilise rooms with disinfectant. Although this is fine if the rooms are empty, schools cannot disinfect when classrooms are occupied with teachers and students.
Using HEPA air purifiers can also disinfect rooms. Yet, although a more affordable option, it can take up to an hour to achieve. If not done before schools start, teachers cannot use the rooms in question for teaching.
Once again, these units can be distracting with their noise pollution and although may seem cheaper at first, replacing their filters can increase the costs considerably in the future.
The solution piloted by the Estonian Ministry of Education is to provide noiseless, UV-C wearable air purifiers for teachers. Teachers are then protected as the UV-C technology eliminates viruses around them, so they do not become ill (even from flu).
UV-C is one of the most effective ways of eliminating harmful pathogens as UV-C light doesn’t get through the Earth’s atmosphere and viruses haven’t developed resistance against it. It works against any airborne viruses and their mutations – making it the perfect solution for the post-covid world. Respiray’s wearable air purifier was developed with teachers in mind. Facial expressions play an important part in a teacher’s role, it will help teachers to communicate better, share more smiles and breathe freely whilst staying protected.
Using wearable air purifiers will enable schools to protect their teachers and admin staff and remain open during future possible lockdowns.
What do teachers think of using wearable technology?
Respiray spoke to Jaanika Lukk, a primary school teacher at Tallinn Secondary School of Science school in Tallinn, Estonia, who teaches children aged 7 and older, about using our device.
What were your first impressions when you started using our product?
“I was really happy and excited because I didn’t have to wear a mask anymore. Although initially, I was a bit afraid that Respiray might be a bit heavy to wear, but I was wrong. I got used to it really quickly and soon I didn’t even notice that I was wearing it.”
How has Respiray helped you to teach children during the current pandemic?
“Thanks to Respiray children can see my emotions and facial expressions better. And it’s really important that children can feel connected to the teacher. I can move around the classroom without any worries and breathe purified air.”
Who would you recommend to use Respiray, and why?
“I recommend using Respiray to anyone who doesn’t want to overshadow their facial expressions and who work with larger groups of people. Respiray protects you from the viruses and it makes it so easy to smile and breathe.”
Safeguarding school staff
Children are suffering right now not only due to the loss of learning from classroom teaching but from the toll on their emotional and social health.
Most are sick at being isolated from their friends, missing the social component that comes with attending school.
To remedy this, schools must remain open, and to do that both teachers and admin staff must remain healthy. Naturally, with more people in school classrooms, the risk of school staff being infected is going to be higher unless all are vaccinated.
Until that happens, using a wearable air purifier like Respiray is one alternative that protects teachers and school staff from being infected, thus keeping schools open when a potential lockdown is underway.
*Please note: Respiray’s air purifier is not a medical-grade Personal Protective Equipment (PPE), and in circumstances where medical-grade Personal Protective Equipment is recommended, you should consult a health care professional. Please remember that the use of our wearable air purifier does not replace the recommended measures to stop the spread of COVID-19. Follow the latest guidelines and rules of your local authorities and health care professionals.