Faced with rising COVID-19 cases and highly infectious variants, Manitoba schools are adding another item to their arsenal of personal protective equipment: eyewear.
Public health officials are now supporting the use of both medical masks and eye protection by teachers and staff “who are unable to consistently and reliably maintain two metres of distance,” a government spokesperson confirmed Friday.
Manitoba Education has received orders for upwards of 85,000 “frames with lenses” and 4,700 face shields from 34 school divisions.
In Winnipeg, St. James-Assiniboia, Pembina Trails, River-East Transcona and Louis Riel school divisions have all ordered the new eyewear for staff.
“We’re definitely in a third wave, and what I hope is we’re going to take evidence-based approaches in all that we do. We see evidence-based approaches in the health sciences, and we’re trying our best here in LRSD to have evidence guide our decisions,” said superintendent Christian Michalik.
Should the supply chain co-operate, Michalik said the division will soon be able to provide each staff member with three medical-grade face masks daily, as well as eye protection, until the end of June.
Officials have informed divisions eye protection should be cleaned daily and disposed of once every week, he said.
Some educators have already started wearing eye protection, as COVID-19 exposures in schools spike and more classes are forced to pivot to temporary remote learning.
Families at Collège Jeanne-Sauvé, Lavallee School and Dalhousie School all learned Friday their children’s schools are shifting fully to distance learning on Monday. Earlier in the week, École South Pointe School and École St. Avila made similar announcements.
“From the perspective that the virus spreads as an aerosol and your eyes are vulnerable because that’s a potential entry point into your body, then definitely, having some protection over your eyes is beneficial,” said Thomas Tenkate, an associate professor at Ryerson University’s School of Occupational and Public Health in Toronto.
Tenkate, however, said schools, which require engaged two-way conversations, are much different than other workplaces such as hospitals or construction sites, where eyewear is typically used as extra protection.
Given how uncomfortable eye protection can be, he said it’s worth considering what is actually feasible and safe for school staff working in those environments.
Tenkate added: “From a health and safety perspective, we’re trying to create conditions where people don’t have to wear PPE because PPE is the last line of defence.”