UNIVERSITY PARK, Pa. — Through research and testing, a Penn State task group dedicated to making recommendations on the use of personal protective equipment (PPE) for instructors has launched initial and evolving guidelines for classroom and laboratory settings. The first round of recommendations are now available on the Keep Teaching website for Penn State instructors teaching in-person and mixed-mode classes this fall.
The document provides guidance on the different types of PPE and appropriate uses of each type for different teaching and learning environments and modes of delivery. It also includes step-by-step guidelines for PPE use and care.
“Our group, part of the Academic Matters Coronavirus Task Force, took an instructor-led approach to look at the broad scope of instruction that occurs at Penn State, taking into account general classroom spaces, unique spaces such as labs, and the different types of interaction that instructors might have with students,” said Keefe Manning, a professor of biomedical engineering and co-chair of the task group, along with the University’s director of Environmental Health and Safety, James Crandall. “The recommendations come from coupling the tested safety and audibility of different types of masks in different environments with other critical factors — such as space and distancing needs, exposure time, universal masking requirements, and sanitizing capabilities — to create the safest and most effective teaching and learning environments for instructors and students, while maximizing the technologies available.”
For instructors planning to teach in-person classes, the following frequently asked questions have been answered by the work of the task group:
Q: Where do instructors get guidance on the recommended PPE for their classrooms and other campus environments?
A: The initial PPE recommendations and more information and resources for teaching this fall can be found at keepteaching.psu.edu, by clicking on “Universal Masking and PPE Recommendations Guidelines” in the July 2020 timeline on the website’s homepage. General information about Penn State’s overall Back to State plan can be found at virusinfo.psu.edu/back-to-state. This guidance also includes expectations for student PPE requirements in classrooms and other instructional settings.
Q: What is the general recommendation for in-person teaching?
A: Based on testing — using a procedure mask (which is pictured in the guidance document) with sound amplification (e.g., microphone) while teaching in the vast majority of learning environments (e.g., general classrooms) best facilitates both in-person intelligibility and remote learning and falls within health and safety guidelines. While wearing a mask, a six-foot separation is recommended when possible by the Pennsylvania Department of Health and the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. Faculty and students should remain mindful that a layered approach to personal safety is the best approach. Limiting activities that require interactions of closer than six feet should be the goal, and these interactions should be kept within a cumulative 10-minute window, according to the Pennsylvania Department of Health.
Q: Who decided the appropriate PPE to use?
A: At least 50 faculty and staff members from many Penn State campuses and disciplines contributed to the initial phase of researching and testing various masks and other PPE in classroom, laboratory, and other campus settings. Members of sub-groups also focused on creating guidance for other teaching and learning considerations — such as type of course (e.g. performance classes, outdoor settings, global languages, nursing/allied health) — and factors related to mask-wearing and in-person teaching. Measures that were examined included physical distancing in both classroom and laboratory spaces; classroom layout and technology evaluations; acoustic testing; classroom cleaning and disinfecting guidance; instructor/student engagement; and needs related to people with disabilities/special considerations.
Q: Is there enough PPE available for all individuals planning to return to Penn State campuses this fall?
A: The University has purchased an additional 1.5 million procedure masks for instructor use for in-person teaching. In addition, to meet specific teaching and learning needs across the university, more than 14,000 face shields and 8,000 clear masks will be available. These PPE purchases are on top of the 500,000 face masks for the University community that were previously announced.
For each instructor teaching in-person classes, an initial 50 procedure masks will be provided before the fall semester begins. Through a special request process, clear masks will be available to faculty with specific teaching and pedagogical needs in disciplines such as speech communications, global languages or voice performance classes. These clear masks are reserved for specific courses that require such PPE. They also are available for individuals who may teach those with hearing loss, or others who need to view facial expressions for best comprehension. More information on this request process will be available within the next two weeks.
The University also will be adding 650 microphones, including lapel mics and USB speakerphone microphones, to classrooms across the University where additional amplification needs are recommended as part of the group’s acoustic testing. In addition, alcohol-based sanitizer for classrooms has been purchased so that faculty can sterilize microphones before and after each use or disinfect other frequently touched equipment and surfaces as they deem necessary.
The task group is currently working with Procurement Services to determine how the PPE will be distributed University-wide. The goal, according to Crandall, is that following the initial distribution, the PPE would be made available at the campus and college level in bulk quantities for replenishment.
Q: What about areas where typical PPE won’t work?
A: Testing is ongoing throughout the summer, and the recommendations will continue to be updated as information is available, and results are aggregated. Multiple sub-groups are further evaluating additional teaching and learning environments before the fall semester, including:
- performance settings (e.g., music/vocal/theater);
- close contact settings (e.g., nursing/physical therapy/allied health);
- small group work (e.g., capstone/labs for 2-4 groups);
- instruction where facial expressions are necessary; and
- off-campus environments, such as third-party locations (clinics) and outdoor settings and field experiences.
Recommendations for these settings are expected to be drafted and finalized within the next two weeks.
“We encourage instructors to bookmark the guidance link as more details will be added in an ongoing fashion and to reach out for recommendations unique to their teaching situations,” said Manning, adding that instructors with questions specific to their teaching situations may reach out to him directly to reach the task group.
Q: What if I need to hydrate while I am teaching? Am I able to remove my mask?
A: In accordance with the Pennsylvania Secretary of Health order and Penn State University requirements, all instructors and students are required to wear masks while on-campus or otherwise participating is Penn State sponsored activities. However, longer segments of speaking may require instructors to lift their masks momentarily to drink from a water bottle or cup. This is understandable and entirely within protocols, and instructors may want to consider the use of a straw to further reduce the need to remove their mask. Please read the latest version of the “Instruction, Universal Masking and PPE Recommendations” document for more details.