How I Will Protect My Teachers
It is not enough to just hand a teacher an N95 mask. In order to properly protect my teachers, the masks are brought into an open air environment and tested to make sure they fit each teacher, otherwise the masks will provide virtually no protection in a classroom.
So, step one is knowing how to verify a proper fit, so we know the N95 masks are protecting my teachers just like they do a doctor or dentist.
To learn how to wear the mask effectively, the teacher puts on their N95 mask, and adjusts it so it seals nicely on their face, and a little bit under their chin. Sorry, if you have chin or cheek hair from a beard or goatee, you need to shave that part for the mask to actually work. Once the mask feels nice and snug, the teacher breathes in and out really hard a few times and cups their hands around the edges of the mask to see if they feel any breeze, and if not then they are ready for the next step, which is to do the vapor test.
An aerosol of an aqueous solution (sodium saccharin) is used to test all respirator masks, including an N95 mask. The saccharin has a strong, sweet smell. Once a teacher is wearing the mask, I put a large bag over their head, (don’t worry, they will be able to breathe well!) While the teacher breathes through their mouth, I inject a few drops of the saccharin into the bag using a rubber pear. If they smell or feel like they can taste anything sweet, then we need to start over and find a better position for the mask, or bend the metal band on the nose bridge of the mask to better fit to their nose. Then repeat the test until we have fitted the mask correctly.
This is pretty much the same process used at hospitals to teach doctors and nurses how to be sure their N95 masks will protect them. And I think it’s important we do this because unless you wear them just right, you might think you’re protected, when really, you’re not. The test may not be necessary depending on how confident/competent individuals are securely fitting their masks.
I took a college class on entrepreneurship to learn how to create a business plan and the things to consider before starting a business. In a way, what I have written here is a business plan to protect my teachers. But it’s not an actual business because I am not making any money, instead I spend every dollar on buying N95 masks or the vapor chemical we need to do the fit testing. Still, it seems like a good idea to write out my overall goal, my strategies to achieve it, the specific steps I’ll take to implement it, and why I decided it was a good idea to pursue in the first place. So here it is.
What would it take for a teacher to be safe for a month of in-class teaching? The answer is that they need at least three N95 masks. That way, they wear one the first day, then the second mask on the second day, and, you guessed it, the third mask on the third day. Then, on the fourth day they wear the first mask again. According to current research, as long as each mask rests for three days in a dry place, the virus dies off and the mask can be safely used again.
By decontaminating the masks by using resting time, instead of baking, UV, chemicals, or heat, the masks will last longer, which is important because they are in such short supply. By doing this, a teacher will be able to wear each of the three masks for seven days, giving them 21 school days of protection. In addition, the CDC says that wearing a non-N95 mask on top of your N95 will help the N95s last even longer when you re-use them. That's what many hospital doctors and nurses are doing to help them re-use their N95 masks. So my teachers can wear their fun or decorative cloth masks too, over their N95's, to sport their favorite teams and memes if they like!
Teachers do not share masks, and they stop using any that get creased, crinkled, soggy, or otherwise visibly damaged because that makes the mask unreliable. Also, teachers should try not to touch the portion of the mask that is exposed to the air around them, as this outer portion of the mask is dirty with germs that have been filtered out of the mask. If it appears that the masks are getting too dirty, not with virus but just dirt or sweat, I may need to increase the number of masks that teachers can have each month so we can get it right, but still conserve. The main thing is to get the ball rolling and make improvements as quickly as we can once school is in session.
My long term plan is to buy the N95 masks in quantities of 500 to 1000 masks per shipment. At that quantity, each mask costs approximately $7.00. Each teacher needs 27 masks for the school year (since each mask will last seven total days with rotation). Thus, it costs $189.00 to protect one teacher for the entire year. So, any teacher can be protected for the whole school year for less than $200! I was honestly amazed when I calculated the cost and found it so low.
For now, in order to get things moving, my plan is to buy N95 masks in shipments of around 40 to 100 masks. Although they are priced about a dollar higher at this quantitiy, it seems worthwhile to use the money I've collected sooner and as the project gains traction, move to larger shipments.
At my school, Redwood, there are 117 teachers (including administrators,) so it would cost a total of $22,113 to protect all of them for the school year once we start buying in larger quantities. Essentially if every student at my school put in just $10, (and there are over 2,000 students at my school), we could protect our teachers for the rest of the year. Ten dollars is how much many students use in a day just to buy food from our (overpriced) cafeteria. So this goal seems pretty reasonable to me. What is also surprising is that the Redwood Foundation, which is the parent-based foundation that raises money for my school, has a goal of $1,200,000, and in past years has met its goals of around one million. In recent years, they have spent $500,000 per year to fund arts, athletics and academics. For less than 5% of that pool of money spent on the school, we could properly protect my teachers, and hopefully allow for school to stay in session. I think most people agree that in-person teaching is a critical aspect of education, and if teachers were able to teach in the classroom safely again, it would benefit everyone.