Wildfire season is complicating efforts to keep schools safe from COVID-19

By: | September 10, 2021

Wildfire season is posing a challenge to Oakland schools as they balance trying to keep students safe from the unhealthy air outside with reducing their chances of being exposed to COVID-19, inside.

School and district leaders typically follow guidance from the Bay Area Air Quality Management District and the Alameda County Office of Education for adjusting school activities when wildfire smoke causes poor air quality. But that guidance was established before the coronavirus pandemic, when there were fewer concerns about keeping people indoors with windows and doors shut. Since COVID-19 spreads mainly through respiratory water droplets traveling through the air and the risk of transmission is higher in enclosed spaces without sufficient ventilation, schools have been encouraged to provide more outdoor spaces for students, especially during meal times when they are less likely to have masks on.

The dual threat of polluted air and COVID-19 has left teachers, parents, and school leaders struggling to figure out what to prioritize, how to protect students, and how to make school as safe as it can be.

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