New Agrarian School
Policy on Coronavirus
May 5, 2020
We at the New Agrarian School, like everyone else in the country and the world, are continually assessing how to take a reasonable stance in relation to the coronavirus that protects the health of our staff and students. Our approach will undoubtedly change as circumstances around us change, and the thinking and conclusions in this document will be subject to revision as time goes on.
In regard to the coronavirus, we simply do not have the luxury of perfect safety. At least not if we intend to live our lives productively and in relation to others. Our choices all concern relative safety. That is, how can we live and participate in meaningful activities while minimizing risk of infection. Unless and until there is widespread accurate testing available and a vaccine, those choices will be difficult.
Basically, our task here is to do our best to prevent anyone who has the Covid 19 disease from attending any workshop, while operating the workshops as if there is actually someone here who does.
The State of Montana is currently under a state of emergency that requires anyone entering the state from another location to self-quarantine for two weeks upon arrival. This legal requirement is intended to prevent people from areas where the disease is more prevalent from bringing it into our state, which at this point thankfully has a very low rate of disease. We at the school support this state policy, and while it makes attendance at the school workshops unlikely for prospective students from out of state, it does make sense from a public and personal health perspective.
Any prospective student from out of state and anyone regardless of residency with a known or suspected exposure to someone with Covid 19 must self-quarantine within the state for at least two weeks immediately prior to attendance of any workshop at the school. While we know that no one would knowingly or willingly bring the virus to the school, taking this precaution is required both by law and in order to provide a safe learning environment.
As well, anyone attending a workshop who has symptoms or develops symptoms characteristic of infection by the coronavirus will be required to be tested immediately or to withdraw from the class. If a test is administered and the results are negative, then that student may continue class. In the event a student must leave a class, or the class must be cancelled due to instructor infection, a full or pro-rated refund of registration fees will be issued.
But even with great effort to prevent attendance by people who may have the disease, the fact is that any such efforts do not absolutely guarantee that no one in attendance is a carrier. Therefore we must operate the school as if someone in attendance does have the virus.
While there are many unknowns as far as the transmission, life cycle, and mechanics of infection with this disease, some basics are very well established. Covid 19 is a respiratory illness, and transmission is from droplets containing the virus expelled by an infected person. Those droplets can cause infection in another person either by inhalation, or contact with surfaces on which those droplets have landed. Infection from contact with surfaces is most likely through touch with the hands and subsequent touching of the face, eyes, or mouth.
It is also clear from research to this point that in order for the virus to cause infection, the “viral load” must be enough to create the disease in a person. That means that it is not just a matter of whether a person is exposed, but how much and how often. So, while we cannot absolutely eliminate any possibility of exposure, we can severely limit exposure by keeping to strict protocols within the classes. And evidence suggests that, not only is contraction of the disease less likely with low exposure to viral particles, but the severity of the disease is also likely to be less should it be contracted.
The classes at the school, even if fully attended are small: six students and an instructor. That is an inherent advantage as compared to many normal activities, such as going to the grocery store, the hardware store, etc. And the classes do not require any personal contact between participants. The shop is well ventilated, the doors are almost always open, and much of the work occurs outdoors under cover. Personal protective equipment is typically worn during many activities (safety glasses, gloves, and sometimes respirators) already.
Any classes held this summer will include additional common sense measures to prevent transmission of disease. That will include:
1. Frequent and thorough handwashing. There are three handwashing stations associated with the shop. At least one of those will have a “hands free” faucet to allow use without touching. Paper towels will be available for drying hands.
2. Frequently touched surfaces that are used in common, such as door knobs, sinks and faucets, etc. will be sanitized several times a day. Hand sanitizer will also be available in the shop.
3. Each student will have a tool station with color coded tools for their use. Some hand tools, such as specialized tongs, sledge hammers, and power tools will necessarily be shared, and the handles of those will be cleaned periodically throughout the day.
4. Each student will have their own forge and forging area. Students will be required to keep those areas orderly and clean. At the end of each day, frequently used tools will be wiped down with sanitizer.
5. Classes and activities will be structured to allow adequate physical distance between participants. Some activities, such as sledge hammer striking at the anvil will require working relatively close together in pairs, but actual physical contact between participants will not be required for any class.
6. Good air ventilation is important for safe operation of the shop even without the Covid threat. Ventilation helps to assure that if any viral particles become airborne, they leave the work areas before having a chance to settle down on surfaces or enter anyone’s breathing zone. In the event of still air, we’ll use fans to keep the air fresh in the shop.
7. Wearing masks or respirators at all times would be difficult, but possible. At this point we think that adherence to the protocols above will be adequate for most circumstances. Individuals who feel more comfortable wearing a mask will be encouraged to do so. Washable fabric masks offer a practical way of doing this. Please bring your own masks.
8. Food preparation and personal hygiene present different challenges. Some students at the school commute and some camp on site. Food preparation on site will need to be strictly sanitary, with each student keeping his/her food separate from that of others. As well, cooking and eating utensils will not be shared. If you plan to camp here, please bring everything you will need for food storage and preparation. The grilles and stoves can be safely shared if people adhere to firm sanitization practices.
9. The toilet and shower facility is shared, and there is no practical way to avoid that. Detailed procedures for use and cleaning will be discussed and posted. Personal cleanliness is important to minimizing the possibility of disease transmission. Keeping the bathroom sparkling clean is an important part of that.
10. This document is intended as an outline only. Objective and specific procedures will be written in detail and shared with all students prior to each class. As well, discussion regarding these and other protocols related to the virus will continue during the course of each workshop, with adjustments and additions being made as required.
11. At this point we at the New Agrarian School believe that at least some of our summer workshops can be operated safely. Of course, they must not only be safe, but also inspiring and fun for participants while incorporating necessary protocols. Our hope is that enough conscientious participants will agree and that we can have a successful, if limited schedule of classes in 2020.