Sick Kids study indicates classrooms too small to accommodate more than 15 students safely

Simulation study makes host of recommendations

A study by healthcare professionals in the GTA indicates classrooms are too small to allow for adequate physical distancing.

A simulation study was conducted in August, led by researchers at Sick Kids hospital, which has released a list of recommendations. The study says the typical public classroom size of 32 feet by 24 feet makes it impossible to maintain a two-metre distance for any more than 12 to 15 students, even with desks up against all four walls.

This simulation also found crowding at entry points, even with staggered class starts and fewer students than average. It noted the entry process took longer than expected. Students were unsure of what to do with their masks during recess, according to the study, while several children in younger grades needed new masks provided throughout the day.

The study recommends removing any non-student related furniture and making use of all available space. If class sizes are not reduced, the study authors recommend exploring alternative classroom set-ups to promote physical distancing. Ongoing staggering of start times will likely be required at most schools to avoid crowding on entry, as per the study. It also recommends a clear process be developed for mask storage during recess, but indicates routine on-site screening at entry points is not feasible without multiple screeners to do the job.

Finally, the study recommends staff members not directly involved in the physical supervision of students consider working off-site to avoid unnecessary congregation of staff.

The principal investigators of the study were Dr. Michelle Science, a medical advisor for Sick Kids’ Division of Infectious Diseases, and Dr. Clyde Matava, an Anesthesiologist with Sick Kids. The study was conducted with help from Unity Health Toronto, Hamilton Health Sciences Centre, Siani Health System, Public Health Ontario, and Toronto Public Health.

“Management of the COVID-19 pandemic has been very complex and filled with tremendous anxiety. As health-care providers and parents, we can empathize with the teachers, school staff, school boards, and the education sector as a whole, who are now facing a great deal of uncertainty,” says Dr. Science. “As the school year progresses, sharing key learnings and best practices from simulations or real-world experiences could help enhance everyone’s safety measures. Having the flexibility to adjust these safety measures will strengthen our collective response to COVID-19.”

The results of the study can be read here.