General tips for COVID Safety in team meetings

I am learning so much from the incredible responses in my Tips for Event Success thread (I hope that others are gleaning good info from it as well) that I thought I would start another related to COVID safety.

I know there are many threads about if we should be meeting at all, and I think they are a great place for that. Also, the CDC and local officials have published many safety guidelines we should follow if we do meet. However, I feel there will be a time when we are all meeting and we still need to follow safety procedures. Yet, one difficulty in meeting for robotics s that though on the surface it seems it should be easy to meet as a team and follow the guidelines, there are many things that come up in a typical meeting that could push us to break protocols without thinking about it.

TLDR:
Now that my team (and others) are beginning to meet in a hybrid fashion, I thought it would be neat to share ideas about strategies we are implementing on our teams to help ensure safety.

I can get the ball rolling with two.

  1. Problem: Distancing is wonderful, and on our team, there is frequently a time when I need to look over a programmer’s shoulder to help them out, or they need to look over mine to see how to do something.

Solution: We have a portable external monitor with a similar resolution to our programming machines. Plugging it into the machine in question allows us to see the same screen and maintain distance. I also have a wireless keyboard and mouse so we do not have to touch the same computer.

  1. Problem: To make our Hybrid meetings function, we are running Zoom for the remote students. This works well, but sometimes to be in the picture, everyone would be tempted to crowd into the frame.

Solution: Use an iPad, phone, or a separate computer as the main Zoom machine. This frees us to move the camera around the room and get a wide view or a narrow one based on the needs at the moment. You can always log in with other devices (mute them) to allow people to see different things at the same time.

Anyway, what are some ideas that you all have to share that could help us play with robots safely.

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When we start meeting in person again, I strongly suspect that our doors and windows will be open.

That’s a full garage door, a back door, and old auto-shop windows that open across the width of the room near the top. With the garage door opening towards the prevailing wind, air circulation is “right through the rooms” if the doors are open between the three rooms we have.

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+1 to air circulation. We also have been making a huge push to get everyone on the team who’s eligible vaccinated (by posting links to available slots), and we’ve been having a fair bit of success with that

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Prior to resuming in-person meetings, Dawgma developed a COVID safety plan for safely resuming our meetings. This is considered a living document and is not all-encompassing. This is what works for us, and may be different than what works for other teams.

Among the highlights of our safety plan:

  • Limited occupancy
  • No community pool of safety glasses. Students are assigned a pair that becomes their responsibility to take care of
  • 100% masking, which in turn means no food/drink
  • Tool sanitation. We use UV wands/lights for tools with sensitive lubrication that wiping down and re-oiling after every usage is not feasible

The key takeaway from our safety plan isn’t explicitly stated, but drove the formation of several of our policies. DO NOT SACRIFICE PHYSICAL SAFETY WHEN OPERATING TOOLS, MACHINERY, OR ROBOTS IN FAVOR OF COVID SAFETY. In practice this means things like not wearing gloves on rotating power tools, finding a mask solution that doesn’t fog your safety goggles, still following safe lifting procedures, etc.

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Note also that the current CDC guidance indicates the probability of fomite transmission is very low and can largely be mitigated with good hygiene practices like hand washing and not touching your nose/mouth (which a mask prevents), rather than disinfecting, although they do mention that once-a-day standard cleaning is good practice too.

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This is important. I wonder about safety glasses and fog. We have been okay in general, but there are certain positions where it seems like fog will occur regardless of what we do. Are there face shields that would protect the eyes just as well (I think drilling is where we get into most of the issue).

edit: I do not feel this is an either or situation. Both shop saety and COVID safety are essential.

Standard industry practice is that face shields are in addition to safety glasses, as I recall. That said, there may be face shields that have a full wrap and fairly tight shield.

That being said: a full-face respirator, with some specific modifications*, and naturally a safety-glass-rated faceplate, would probably fit the bill. THIS would probably fit it better, but at a cost. (Though I would propose that it’s possible to get some number of full kits and some smaller number of just the helmet.

*A layer of fabric over the exhale port.

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As an interesting note, we started this a few years ago as a general practice - with the community pool, we found too many were walking away and never coming back. We have cubbies in the shop that get assigned to each student where they can store their safety glasses, and a small collection of science-class style goggles that they can wear should they take theirs home and forget them. It’s proven to be a good way to manage our safety glasses!

We have a “used tools” tote in the shop. When done using a tool, it gets tossed in the tote to be cleaned at the end of the night. With the way we’ve been working, each of our pods has generally been able to grab a handful of tools they need and leave them on their table the full evening, rather than cleaning and putting them away multiple times. That lets us clean them at the end of every meeting (2 meetings per week), which really isn’t too bad. For the larger tools, we wipe down common surfaces after each use (handles, chucks, etc), although with the CDC guidance we’ve gotten more lax on that than we were in the fall.

We also have garage doors on either side of our shop (one opens to the parking lot, the other to an inner courtyard, letting maintenance bring through stuff like lawnmowers) that we’ll open as outside temperatures allow.

As briefly mentioned above, we’ve been working in small pods - no more than 4 students per pod (although official guidance from the school said 10, we found 4 was a good number for what we’ve been doing this year). Each pod gets a different table in our assembly area, letting them distance from the other pods, and with each table big enough to let some distancing there as well. We also only let one pod in the shop at a time, as it’s smaller and harder to stay distanced in. Given our experiences in there this past year, we actually rearranged the shop last week to provide more floor space, fewer tight spots, and to spread out some of the most often used tools. I’m hopeful it’ll be a good change!

For programming, we make good use of the classroom projection system. it allows us to have socially distanced, in person, collaborative programming!

And of course, we’re hybrid - what can be done remotely, is done remotely. Zoom has been working great for us so far, and the school’s IT has been great in working through the few issues we’ve run across.

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What I’ve been doing is using some masking tape to seal off the top of my mask – works really well, and doesn’t irritate the skin (bit annoying to pull off, but at least I don’t need to shave up there anymore :slight_smile: )

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Here are some thoughts from our couple months of being covid safe (based both on what we did right and wrong). As I expect this to be fairly long, I’m going to put all the info in the hidden detail section for organization sake.

Safety Glasses (Use and Fogging)

Safety glasses should be assigned to specific members, but should remain at the shop, as not to be forgotten.

Fogging is best prevented by having tight fitting masks. If not easily implemented, the below trick works well.

Fogging occurs when warm air from our breath lands on a cool surface, like the inside of our safety glass. A neat trick I learned from summer P.E. swimming. Take off your safety glass, turn them around, then purposefully allow the upward airflow from your mask onto the outside lens, causing them to fog up on the outside. Then use the inside of your shirt to wipe the condensation off both sides. Your glasses will then stay fog almost free until you take them off for a extended period of time. (I believe this helps equalized the temperature of the glasses. Not sure, but it works for me)

Tool Sanitation

See as different tools could be damaged based on their sanitation methods, putting an emphasis on not touch our face with our hands and washing after practices become the primary strategy.

Attendance

Attendance is taken at every meeting in case of contact tracing.

Peer Programming/Peer PR

In any instance where members are required to look at the same screen, it is preferred that if possible the screen is duplicated to a secondary monitor so members do not have to sit directly next to each other.

Ventilation and Airflow

Fans are added to every room and turned on during practices.

In commonly left open doorways distance from rotary machinery, a few strands of ribbon are attached to the frame to provide a visual proof that there is adequate air circulation. This helps as a reminder to turn on fans.

Food and Drink

Food and Drink is not allowed in the main build space. A separate socially distance space is designate for eating/drinking.

While it would be preferred no eating or drinking, some student rely on afterschool programs for dinner, and should not be discouraged from partaking in these activities. Rather, a safe alternative must be found.

Mask Standards

In addition to wearing masks at all times, all masks should be CDC approved. Masks stay on from the start of practice until when students get into their parents cars (or when they are 15 feet socially distant if walking home)

Dealing with members that break rules

Understand that you may have members of your team break rules. If so, it is important to identify the reason (accidental or with intent) and then take corrective action.

I personally prefer a friendly first reminder. A harsh one can lead to the member feeling attacked, and this can lead to further resistance.

Uncertain ending times

Clarify these rules remain in effect for as long as leadership/mentors/state authority deems necessary. Even if local governance allows for less safety precautions, the mentors reserve the right to continue upholding these rules.

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I haven’t had to think about this, except in an abstract way. There’s still some uncertainty, so my answer for what I hypothesize would work well is not what I’d actually propose. Instead, I’d start with (and prioritize) these interventions and then add some onto this. Of course, if this weren’t abstract, the decision would be made by more than one person (which is a good thing).

There is an element of defense in depth and redundancy, but really, I’d be pretty comfortable with focusing only vaccination and ventilation and consider anything beyond this as being more about erring on the side of caution (which is a reasonable thing to do). Right now, many students are not eligible for vaccines, but this population really is at much lower risk (including as spreaders – see Science Brief: Transmission of SARS-CoV-2 in K-12 schools | CDC).

There’s quite a lot of real-world data on vaccination, including around variants. This intervention is not burdensome, and it works better than anything else we have – if everyone were vaccinated, my personal sense of things (but one that’s grounded in data) is the discussion would be over (after enough time for the results to become clear). So I’d start by focusing here.

Setting aside vaccination, the next best interventions are around keeping anyone infectious from being physically there in a meeting. So, if you are symptomatic, stay remote. If a school or sponsor had access to rapid tests, it would be reasonable to use these (for those who have not been vaccinated). If there is a high level of community spread in the immediate area, consider postponing meetings until this is no longer true. I realize “high” is not a well-defined criteria.

Next, come interventions meant to reduce transmission. Personally, I’d focus on aerosols, which is where ventilation comes up. The kinds of masks people wear (and also how they are often worn), as well as the whole social distancing thing were interventions proposed pretty early on (based less on data than on desperation and generalization and most effective against droplets). They clearly help, but the data (and there is a lot of it by now) show that they do not help as much as many people believe (see Association of State-Issued Mask Mandates and Allowing On-Premises Restaurant Dining with County-Level COVID-19 Case and Death Growth Rates — United States, March 1–December 31, 2020 | MMWR – there are a number of studies with different methodologies with findings which are consistent). This is one piece of evidence behind COVID-19 being primarily transmitted via aerosols.

So, I’d have people wear masks, but I would not rely on this as the primary mechanism to manage spread. To be clear, I would not do anything differently around masks. As far as social distancing, I’d be more concerned about density and ventilation than I would be about moment-to-moment maintenance of 6’ of distance. I would not bother with fomites at all, the extra time trying to deal with these very probably entails more risk than just ignoring these. If students want to wipe things down before they use them, that’s fine of course. Finally, I’d probably try to avoid having many people in the same space for lengthy spans of time, especially where ventallation isn’t very good.

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Yes. There is a study just out from MIT saying that distance indoors is not nearly as important as air circulation and limiting time. MIT researchers: Risk of contracting COVID-19 indoors the same at 6ft and 60ft | TheHill

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For anybody looking to implement this, door-hanging shoe organizers work really well. They’re usually designed to be machine washable.

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We have used sock organizers (https://www.amazon.com/dp/B07K5P67YH/). They basically can fit glasses. I don’t know exactly how washable they are.

For food/drink, if teams do it, I’d check with schools on how they do lunch, etc. That is if they are. Having only one server, if needing to dish out food, or having individually packaged snacks is better if you can. Santize/wash hands before eating. If it is possible to do away with it, it is less risk, but for some teams that have food there is often a kid that benefits a lot from having that option.

Good info on air. I know aerosol researchers, so it is something I’ve known at least since last summer. I think being aware of tight spaces where aerosols can build up is good. Also, using better masks when in spaces like that and limiting time when larger numbers are present. Having outflowing air is good, but also larger air volume to mix into is helpful. Outside is ideal, again a good consideration if having food available at meetings.

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This recently updated CDC guidance is focused on summer camps but has a lot of info:
Guidance for Operating Youth and Summer Camps During COVID-19.

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Now that Washington is offering shots to anyone 16+ and appointments have freed up a bit, we just announced that after June 10th we’re mandating students who are eligible to receive the vaccine and don’t have any conditions that would prohibit getting vaccinated to have their second shot. Hoping more teams do the same – robots are cool, but this hobby of ours shouldn’t come at the cost of lives.

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I was wondering when some one was going to reference that study. PDF to the study is here. A good example that “Science” is not monolithic. There is not one unified answer to complicated things like pandemics. The study seems to say the events might be safe if they are held in well ventilated areas like basketball stadiums, limit participation, and don’t let people sing baby shark.

We are fortunate that our current build site is in the cafeteria and kitchen of a closed school. We also limited the size of in person meetings and only for things that could not be done virtually.

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Better masks are only more useful when you have gone through the process of fit checking and wear them properly. Without shaving, I (and you :slight_smile: ) would never pass the fit check and would have to explore other options.

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Portable air filter units with HEPA media and UV-C sterilizing lights.

Example unit:

While I certainly agree with the sentiment here, I have to ask - have you looked into the legality of such a mandate? Vaccination mandates get into difficult situations at times (define “any conditions” - does it include religious exemptions?). Additionally, with the vaccines thus far not having full FDA approval (only emergency-use authorization), it’s not clear that any mandates - from employers, schools, etc - are legal.

I would really hate for teams to suffer from legal trouble from being too aggressive in this area.

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