Coronavirus: When to Wear PPE Masks in Schools and Colleges

Personal Protective Equipment and PPE masks have been at the forefront of the global battle against the coronavirus pandemic.

Yet with COVID-19 vaccine distribution and roll out gathering pace, questions arise as to their role in the weeks and months ahead.

As we contemplate a gradual transition from work at home, social distancing and other protective measures to a greater semblance of normalcy, masks, visors and other such equipment will likely remain a part of our social landscape for some time to come.

In this article, we’ll be looking at current UK guidelines for the use of personal protective equipment in an educational setting.

We shall also consider some of the implications for buyers and suppliers looking to source and distribute these items.

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Infection with the novel coronavirus (COVID-19) can occur through a number of channels, including direct inhalation of droplets from an individual who’s carrying the virus if they cough, sneeze, spit, or exhale in close proximity to you.

Indirect transmission can occur if, for example, you touch your nose, mouth, or eyes with fingers that have been in contact with a surface that bears active traces of the virus – like a doorknob, counter, or light switch.

What PPE Is – And When to Use It

In conjunction with measures to promote strict cleanliness and sanitation, Personal Protective Equipment (PPE) is a major component in halting or slowing the widespread distribution of the coronavirus.

There are several items that can reduce the risk of transmission and which qualify as PPE.

Fluid-resistant or Type IIR surgical face masks are recommended for wear to reduce the risk if a distance of two metres between individuals in a given space cannot be guaranteed or maintained.

In use, PPE masks should cover both the nose and mouth and should not be touched other than when first putting them on or carefully taking them off before disposal.

Ideally, the masks should be for single use only. That means that you should change them if they become moist or damaged and safely discard them after a single use, cleaning your hands after disposal.

The same condition applies to disposable gloves and plastic aprons or gowns, which also qualify as personal protective equipment.

Teachers, assistants, or care givers should wear these if physical contact becomes necessary with someone who exhibits symptoms of COVID-19.

Those symptoms typically include shortness of breath or acute difficulty in breathing, high body temperature, persistent headaches, joint stiffness and physical aches and an impaired ability to taste or smell anything.

Eye protection such as goggles or a clear face PPE visor round out the standard classification for personal protective equipment.

If your risk assessment of a particular environment concludes that there’s a high chance of persons in that setting spitting, coughing, or vomiting, chances are that particles from these emissions could enter the eye, so eye protection should be worn.

This infographic from Northwestern Medicine summarises the anatomy of personal protective equipment currently in use against COVID-19:


Plotting A Course Back to Normalcy for UK Education

Arguing that school and college classrooms are the best place for a child/young person to be right now, Prime Minister Boris Johnson is pushing ahead with plans for the mass reopening of establishments of education across the UK.

As recently reported in The Independent, these plans form part of the government’s roadmap for easing national coronavirus restrictions in England, starting with the reopening of both primary and secondary schools to all pupils from 8 March 2021, for face-to-face teaching.

The roadmap does, however, face some obstacles.

Notably, unions have expressed concerns over the mass return of students to the classroom, calling for a phased approach similar to that being adopted in Scotland and Wales and the taking of suitable precautions to ensure the safety of staff and pupils.

In light of such considerations, the government has issued guidelines setting out the various conditions under which children and young people or members of staff at establishments in the UK should wear a face covering or other personal protective equipment in an educational setting.

These include scenarios where the use of such equipment is recommended and situations in which PPE masks or other items are mandatory for public health reasons, as advised by Public Health England (PHE).

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Guidelines for Primary Education and Early Years Settings

Hand washing or hand sanitisation and the regular disinfection and cleaning of surfaces, toys and other objects are imperative in primary school and early years settings, as it’s notoriously difficult to minimise physical contact between young children at these levels.

For nursery and baby/toddler care, aprons and gloves are suitable for activities such as changing nappies and delivering general first aid, provided that the child is not exhibiting symptoms of the coronavirus. Any child showing such symptoms should remain at home and be tested for the virus.

 Special Educational Needs

The Department for Education classifies children or young people attending special schools or those who have Special Educational Needs and Disabilities (SEND) as vulnerable and requiring a face-to-face education, wherever appropriate.

Under current restrictions, all such learners who can stay at home should stay at home.

At special needs institutions where in-person instruction continues, staff should be provided with personal protective equipment, including FFP2 or FFP3 grade PPE masks for staff administering first aid, medical care, or personal care activities where social distancing cannot be maintained.

A long-sleeved fluid repellent gown, gloves and eye protection should be used by anyone engaging in aerosol generating procedures (AGPs) such as non-invasive ventilation (NIV).

 Use of PPE Masks in Secondary Education

Under Boris Johnson’s plan, pupils at secondary schools in England will be advised to wear PPE masks in classrooms for the initial weeks after reopening.

Students at secondary schools and colleges will be also asked to use a lateral flow device when they return and will only be allowed to attend face-to-face classes if their test result comes back negative.

The plan calls for students to have four rapid tests on site over the first two weeks of term, before then being asked to carry out the tests at home twice a week.

In Wales, the Chief Medical Officer recommends “the risk assessed use of face coverings in secondary schools in a range of settings where other physical controls cannot be or are unlikely to be maintained.”

This excludes classrooms which have COVID-19 ventilation and social distancing protocols in place – but includes other communal areas where such controls cannot be maintained to the same degree.

Scottish secondary school pupils have to wear face coverings in corridors, communal areas and school buses.

In Northern Ireland, schools and colleges must deliver distance learning to the maximum extent possible, with only essential face-to-face learning taking place when it is a necessary and unavoidable part of the course.

Again, such recommendations have been met with some controversy.

In England, for example, the National Deaf Children’s Society has warned of “devastating” effects on the 35,000 deaf pupils at secondary school level whose education may be disrupted by the use of face coverings.

Contingency Measures at All Levels

Anyone exhibiting symptoms of the coronavirus should if possible be moved to a room where they can be isolated behind a closed door and with a window open for ventilation, with adult supervision as appropriate to their age or special circumstances.

If such isolation is impossible, the individual should be moved to an area that is at least two metres away from other people.

Use a separate bathroom (if available) while waiting to be collected and clean and disinfect this space with standard cleaning products before it’s used by anyone else.

Staff attending to the child, young person, or student should wear PPE if direct personal care is required and a distance of two metres cannot be maintained.

More generally, schools and colleges have to make sure that there are enough bins and washing facilities so that pupils, staff and visitors can safely get rid of their disposable face masks and are able to wash their hands afterwards.

Meeting Supply and Demand in Challenging Times

Education authorities and institutions are largely responsible for sourcing their own PPE. Throughout the pandemic, this has proven to be a challenging endeavour.

Since its first incidence, the coronavirus pandemic has been disrupting the flow of goods and services worldwide, issuing a stern challenge to supply chain resilience and to those in the procurement profession.

In fact, COVID-19 has highlighted the fragility of many existing supply chains, which have broken under the pressure of increased demand. Although supplies of personal protective equipment exist, many legacy supply chains have collapsed, leaving buyers and suppliers at a loss to find each other.

Founded in 2000, Applegate has been the home of business buying for decades, creating value for buyers by sourcing quotes from a comprehensive range of suppliers, saving them time and money. The Applegate database consists of 120,000 companies, spread across a range of different industries.

Applegate CEO Stuart Brocklehurst quickly realised that the Applegate platform would be perfectly placed to link PPE customers with PPE suppliers and the Applegate offering now allows buyers to register their PPE needs and suppliers to register their stock. 

The Applegate Covid-19 Hub serves any organisation from NHS Trusts to local authorities, care homes, schools, colleges and restaurants, connecting them with suppliers that can fulfil their needs. There’s no charge and our artificial intelligence powered system (supported by our experienced team) will match your request to the most suitable suppliers who can quote on your request.

If you’re looking for PPE masks or have other specialised PPE requirements, you can download our buying guide.

Alternatively, let us know your PPE requirements, and we'll connect with relevant suppliers to provide multiple quotations. 


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