COVID-19 New Normal

Our team just had a virtual planning meeting for the rest of the summer and the upcoming season. One of the discussions is how we are going to deal with the new normal. Our area is still in phase 2 that allows only 5-people gathering. With the trend of the pandemic, I am not optimistic we will open up any time soon. Even if we finally open back up, we would probably still need to practice the new normal safety. So the question is: what does this new normal safety look like. There are two scenarios of concern. One is training, the other is the actual build meetings. Some trainings can be done virtually (e.g. programming and CAD). Even these may need hands-on at some point which requires face to face meetings. Other trainings and build meetings definitely require us to get together face-to-face. To do face-to-face meetings, we must have a whole safe meeting protocol in place. I scanned the forums and found a discussion thread (Covid Shop Safety Protocol & PPE) but it mainly discussed face covering and had many good suggestions. I would like to have a discussion on full shop health safety protocol. Here is my first draft of the protocol. I would appreciate any feedbacks and additions.

  • Meetings must be run with a reservation/sign-up system so we can control the number of people in the building.
  • Temperature check at the door. Anybody running a fever will be turned away.
  • Students must bring their own face protection (i.e. safety glasses, reusable face mask and/or face shields). We WILL NOT provide reusable face covering devices in fear of sharing contaminated devices but we will provide disposable face mask if students forgot to bring one. This means we no longer provide safety glasses and students must buy and bring their own and label them with their names. Concern: must define what reusable face covering is acceptable.
  • Students are required to wear nitrile gloves when working (will be provided).
  • Hand sanitizer will be provided to sanitize hands when gloves are off.
  • We usually provide snacks in the kitchen area for students. Should we not do that any more? Sharing food is very high risk. Or should we be selective on the snacks that are individually wrapped so that no cross contamination is possible? (e.g. no fingers dipping into bags of potato chips :smiley: )
  • We usually provide reusable cups and glasses for drinks in the kitchen to avoid producing too much environmentally unfriendly garbage. What should we do in this area? One idea is to have students bring their own cup with their names on them. They can either leave them in the shop or bring them home each time. We will probably still provide some disposable cups in case students forgot to bring their cups but we will discourage using disposable cups.

It feels like your list is jumping to actions without fully defining the threat.

My current understandings:
-Spreads via airborne droplets (& aerosols?)(“shared air”, “moist breath zone”)
-Amount of viral load is important factor in how bad your case is
–face coverings reduce your virus intake
-Minimal secondary risk of fomite (surface) transmission.
—Call center case study: half a floor impacted in one HVAC zone, no “elevator button cases” in the rest of the building
-not significantly food-borne (meatpacking outbreaks don’t spread to consumers), though sharing food is risky (friend-of-friend caught it on a camping trip, likely related to sharing cooking utensils or food)
-Transmission can occur presymptomatically

From this I have some popular and also unpopular opinions, but want to focus on defining the problem first :slight_smile:


It’s not always going to be up to the teams to define the threat. In many cases, they are working in restrictions put in place by state or local governments or the school district. I know my team is currently under heavy restrictions from the school on social distancing, temperature checks, masks, etc. We have to prepare a plan for the school that meets their criteria any time we’re going to be on campus. Threat doesn’t matter - following the rules is.

Well, hopefully we can have some humor over this situation once competitions begin, and put masks on our robots!


So far as I know, the rule at our school is that we won’t be meeting on campus. At all.

So this discussion is moot for us.

Hopefully you can make it work.


Correct, for example see the 5 person limit in OP’s introductory paragraph. I am not advocating breaking local public health or school regulations. I am advocating understanding the vectors this virus travels in before writing additional rules for personal & team conduct, such as the long list of additional actions in the OP, which I understand as going beyond the scope of local public health regulations.

Following the rules matters, but the threat also matters.


Given how poor the US response has been to this point, I think going a little farther than “the rules” will be prudent for many areas.


Yes, we are trying to follow the rules from the school district but details on how to implement them seemed lacking. If the school district says don’t meet, we won’t. But at some point, if they said we can meet with no more than N number of people, we need to implement safety protocol to ensure everybody’s safety. I did think about different ways of virus transmission and try to add procedures to minimize the exposure. That’s what this discussion is about (to seek constructive feedback on what procedures make sense). I would like to think all added procedures are designed according to science and to save lives.

Agreed. Let me out it another way… I’m asking for the proposed procedures to be organized according to what type of spread they are designed to prevent (or purpose they serve). That way similar procedures will be grouped together and similar vectors might become easier to identify. And team members can be educated on the logic of each type of rule, and contribute new ones as needed.

For example, if packages and door handles are being wiped down at some interval, then should tools also be wiped down at that interval? What other surfaces should be included?
(Is this more or less important than defining and enforcing effective masking practices?)

What should leaders educate teammembers on to help members understand why they need to comply?

Empty edicts are ripe for undermining.

If door handles and packages are being wiped down but not tools, why wipe the handles and packages? If the handles and packages rule is covid theatre, is the mask also covid theatre? If the mask is covid theatre, just punch some hidden holes in it before you go out so you can breath easier while an Authority is making you wear your face covering.

(Not kidding, that last one is making the rounds on social media inland from me in CA. I am idealistic enough to believe that education and engagement with our teams and communities as the adults they are can mitigate some of it, but it will be an uphill battle)

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The basic assumptions of transmission are via airborne particles and touching.

With these assumptions, the rationale of the procedures are:

  • Meetings must be run with a reservation/sign-up system so we can be in compliance with the <= N number of people rule.
  • Temperature check at the door. This is obviously a good thing to do, COVID-19 or not. If you are sick, you shouldn’t be here.
  • Students must bring their own face protection is also obviously good because the P in PPE means “Personal”, not sharing with others.
  • Wearing nitrile gloves and using hand sanitizer when not wearing gloves is to minimize transmission through touching. If a person is carrying the virus, with gloves and face mask on, it is much less likely that surfaces and objects will be contaminated by the person. IMHO, wiping surfaces down may not be effective because you can’t constantly be wiping surfaces especially when people are working and that’s when the transmission take place through interaction. Protecting the person is more effective via face mask and gloves. I have bought UV-C lights that can irradiate the shop before and after the meetings. It’s more effective than trying to wipe all surfaces and objects (think hundreds of screws and tools).
  • Not sharing food in a dangerous way is also obviously good. I have observed students using their bare hands to reach in snack bags (we do provide spoons to dish snack out of the bags) and also taking food from each other’s container/plates.
  • Same thing with drinks and cups.

And of course, most importantly, a conversation with everybody including students and mentors about doing all these is not just to protect yourself but also protecting others. I would like to think our team members are educated and rational people so they understand these procedures are for everybody’s safety.

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I’d probably contend that nitrile gloves aren’t particularly needed. I would use hand sanitizer (or hand washing) when coming, going, and before eating.


Good point. nitrile gloves may not be necessary. My personal experience is that when I am wearing gloves, I am more aware of not touching my face with my hands. But you are right, washing hands and using hand sanitizer must be done anyway.

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Our team is doing something very similar to the OP, but we decided NOT to require Nitrile gloves. Our concern is that wearing any type of gloves with certain types of tools (mostly rotary tools) and the risk created (glove entaglement in tool) outweighs any pandemic risk that wearing gloves might assist.

We DO wear nitrile gloves for doing certain tasks (using certain glues / chemicals, etc.) as appropriate, but mandating gloves at all times did not seem prudent.


Some students have small hands, so at least two sizes of gloves would be needed. Gloves that are too big can make trying to do work rather frustrating.

For us it is the same. However, this extends to meeting in person off school as well. This has caused our FTC team, which I am a part of, to give up on trying to build a robot this year since our mentors want it to be a team experience building the robot. Because people can’t meet, our mentors don’t see it as a team experience. However, we are organizing cad challenges for other teams in our school district with the same restrictions. We are hopeful we can compete in some sort of simulator where we get to see how our theoretical robots do!

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  • Students must bring their own face protection (i.e. safety glasses, reusable face mask and/or face shields). We WILL NOT provide reusable face covering devices in fear of sharing contaminated devices but we will provide disposable face mask if students forgot to bring one. This means we no longer provide safety glasses and students must buy and bring their own and label them with their names. Concern: must define what reusable face covering is acceptable.

Regarding this rule, we are now considering to provide safety glasses for students but requiring them to clean the safety glasses with disinfectant wipes (provided) before and after use. Students can bring their own safety glasses if they feel safer that way but we will provide safety glasses if they don’t have them. They just need to clean them before and after use.