Thinking of teaching in person again? Are things beginning to open up and you’re wondering when you should? The downward curve of an epidemic has the same number of cases as the beginning of the upward curve. If handled well, the curve will continue down. If mismanaged, like the Spanish Flu, the second wave could surpass the first. It is hoped that policy-makers will guide us well. This post contains suggestions to mitigate the continued spread of COVID-19, and ultimately concludes that it is still recommended to teach online.
I have a doctor in my family! My beloved sister and first piano teacher, Dr. Judy Price, is currently practicing medicine as a General Practitioner. We often talk about healthy living and health care, and this week I had the chance to pick her brain once again about how piano teachers can help to keep ourselves, our piano students and communities safe in light of the current global pandemic of the novel coronavirus — COVID-19.
She took time out of her busy schedule to answer my questions so that I can share these important messages with my blog readers. According to her, “This is as of today, but things change quickly with public health advice.” (Updated May 23rd, 2020, originally posted March 14th, 2020.)
RM: What do piano teachers need to know about the novel coronavirus and COVID-19?
MD advises how to keep yourself and your students healthy
Let each student and family know that they can be a part of containing the spread by doing a few important things. Advise students to “self-isolate” from piano lessons and from ANY non-essential travel (essential would be for health reasons) if they have any of the following symptoms:
- Fever (i.e. chills, sweats)
- Cough or worsening of a previous cough
- Sore throat
- Hoarse voice
- Runny nose
- Difficulty breathing
- Sore muscles
- Feeling more tired than usual
- Loss of sense of smell or taste
- Red, purple or blueish lesions on the feet, toes or fingers without clear cause
2A. Keeping your distance
Even if officials in your local area, state or province begin to relax restrictions, if they are also still reporting new and active cases of COVID-19, continue to follow all recommended health precautions and keep your distance. The best and safest way to keep your distance is to continue to teach piano lessons online if at all possible, and for as long as possible.
If you teach in your studio, teach from a distance of at least two metres (six feet) away from your students. If your studio is not large enough to allow for this distance, please continue to teach online.
It is known that most people contract COVID-19 in their own homes from people who bring it home. Teaching piano lessons in your home or in a close studio setting is very similar to any “home” set-up – you are spending a lot of time with a person in a room in which you are both breathing the same air and speaking. If someone coughed or sneezed it would increase the risk of infection considerably.
Singing in person is completely out of the question at this time, as it has been shown that singing releases aerosols (microscopic droplets which contain the virus) that can travel up to 16 feet. But even if you refrain from singing, there is still a risk of passing on COVID-19 simply by breathing and speaking. For more on the risks of close proximity as well as time spent together, please read these two informative articles:
To mitigate the spread through speaking and breathing, wear a mask. Even though there is still some seepage around a mask, it is still safer to wear one than not.
When you wear a mask it is a sign of respect to those around you. It is a message saying, “If I have COVID-19 and don’t know it, I don’t want you to get it.” Wearing a mask during lessons would be a sign of respect to your students and their parents. For your students to wear a mask, it would be a sign that they respect you and your health.
Numbers 2A, 2B, and 3A are equally important, and go hand-in-hand to keep you, your students and your wider community as safe as possible. It is a Protective Triad of your personal space– 1) social distancing, 2) face mask and 3) hand washing. 3B is very important for your living space.
3A. Washing hands
How? Wash hands for at least 20 seconds under warm water with a good normal soap.
In your studio: Teach your students the actions to the new Hand Washing Song set to the tune of Frère Jacques! (It is not recommended that they actually sing anywhere in your home!) This teaches the six-step handwashing method recommended by the World Health Organization. Andante, it takes 20-25 seconds to sing, about the amount of time it takes to kill a virus. You could play this video on your phone in place of actually singing. This is the new most important thing you can teach your students.
Teaching online: Teach your students the song and actions. Ask them to practice it each day before they practice the piano, singing it and washing their hands at their sink at home. Email the following PDF to your students for them to post in their washrooms at home.
I’m providing a FREE printable of the Hand Washing Song lyrics.
If you have students in your studio, instead of a communal bathroom cotton towel, have single sheets of paper towel ready (so a student doesn’t handle the whole roll), and a garbage bin where each towel can be tossed after a single use and not handled again.
Who? Both the teacher and student should wash hands (as well as parents and siblings who stay) at the start of every lesson as described above for the full 20 seconds.
If your student uses a tissue, don’t just throw the tissue into the garbage before it touches anything, the student should also wash their hands again before touching anything.
3B. Disinfecting the studio space
Where (what rooms)? The entrance, bathroom and teaching space.
Where (what surfaces)? Wipe all entrance surfaces including inside and outside door knobs, doors and trim etc., all bathroom surfaces including sink, taps, door knobs, doors and trim etc., and toilet (if your students use it), and all studio surfaces including piano books, door knobs, doors and trim etc. If students touch light switches, clean these as well. An option is to leave lights on at this time so the switches don’t need to be touched. Even if a student doesn’t touch something (like the metronome), if the teacher plays the piano following the student and then touches it, it needs to be disinfected. The piano itself is addressed separately in the following section.
When? Disinfect each of the above surfaces (not just the piano keys) before lessons each day, between all lessons and after you teach for the day. Otherwise, student-to-student contamination is occurring.
What cleaner? On household surfaces it is sufficient to use a standard disinfectant like Mr. Clean or standard disinfectant wipes. These don’t have to be “anti-bacterial” as COVID-19 is not a bacteria! Any washable cloth is okay and used only once. Wipes are good too if used only once, and not to be used if they go dry.
If you handle the cleaning cloth with surgical gloves on, remove the gloves after a single use by pulling them off from the wrist and turning them inside-out, then throw them out. Change gloves with each use.
Disinfecting the piano
To disinfect your piano while protecting its finish, follow the steps developed by Gregory Cheng, RPT and recommended by the Piano Technicians’ Guild. Know what materials your piano is built of and do your research. In general:
For the keys — “Use alcohol-based disinfectants, do not use bleach-based disinfectants or any product containing citrus. If using a spray or liquid bottle, use a disposable towel like WYPALL L30. Put the disinfectant on the towel and not the piano.”
For the cabinet — It should be noted that the piano’s cabinet also needs to be disinfected; clean any part of the piano touched by the student as well as the piano bench. Cheng recommends a few drops of hand/dish soap with warm water on a towel.
To read the complete article, please go to COVID-19 and Piano Care published by the Piano Technicians’ Guild.
4. Limit in-studio touching
Try not to touch your own face while teaching!
Ask your students to bring their own pencils and erasers to lessons, as it would be impossible for the teacher to disinfect these.
It is not advised at this time for you to allow students to touch your computer, iPad or any device. It is very difficult to disinfect electronic devices without damaging the circuitry.
If you must disinfect your computer keyboard, do so with the keyboard upside-down so the liquid from the cleaning cloth is kept out by gravity. Wipe off with a dry cloth while still upside-down and let the keyboard dry further by setting it upside-down to air out.
However, simply don’t let students use your computer! If you are washing your hands, you won’t need to disinfect it.
DR. JP: “This is difficult to put into words, but having online piano lessons is still the best option. Explore that!”
If you feel the above steps to health-proof your studio against COVID-19 seem daunting, that’s because they are. Even health care workers in full hospital gear are falling ill. It is therefore ill advised to teach students in person. Each person bears responsibility to stop the chain of spread. You are urged to teach from a safe distance online. Please stay at home and allow your students to stay safe at home, also. Please stay well. ~ RM
Health questions answered
RM: Is it possible for children to be sick and not know it? It is possible to eliminate the risk of spread of COVID-19 with the above steps?
DR. JP: While children can get very sick with COVID-19, they are more likely to be asymptomatic carriers of the virus. The student could answer no to the symptoms listed above but still be a carrier and be contagious. Because teachers fall in the age demographic that is at higher risk for more severe disease, a piano teacher is taking the higher risk by teaching in person.
Even with distancing, disinfecting, hand washing and masks, the teacher is at a higher risk of contracting COVID-19 and more severe symptoms with in-studio lessons.
RM: Why is this virus so difficult to contain globally?
DR. JP: Because many governments on a national level delayed having a plan to reduce transmission and for testing, also for educating the public. For instance, teaching citizens to self-isolate, about social distancing, and to wash their hands regularly and not touch their faces! There are a few countries, like Taiwan, that implemented precautions early and they have a very low infection and death rate.
RM: What is known and unknown about COVID-19?
DR. JP: We do know that the incubation period is up to 14 days — from contact with someone sick to showing symptoms — and during the 14 days, you are able to infect others!
We also know that many people are “carriers” – have the virus, are contagious, and don’t know it as they have no symptoms, or very mild symptoms like a very mild cold.
We also know that the symptoms of infection are usually sore throat, fever, and shortness of breath, although it can show up with various other symptoms (see the list above).
We also know that the virus survives about 2 – 3 days on surfaces if just left and not cleaned.
RM: What is different about COVID-19 from other viruses?
DR. JP: It’s different because not enough is known about it yet. We don’t know how infective it is (how many people who are exposed will get sick or become carriers), or how many people are actually dying from it, as not everyone who dies has been tested for this specific virus. Our federal government has set aside a large amount to study this and it’s a really good idea!
RM: I’d like to know your advice for someone who feels they are exposed.
DR. JP: Your healthcare system will likely have a number to call for screening. This will put you in touch with a Registered Nurse who can pre-screen you for symptoms and help you know what to do next. [Call 811 in NS.]
Legal disclaimer: The views of Dr. Judy Price and Rebekah Maxner are opinion only and should not be used in the place of the medical advice of your own doctor or the direction of your own elected policy makers.