Here at Brackers, we continue to study & research the relationship between the COVID-19 virus and how it may affect ceramics studios and classrooms.  While none of us here are microbiologists or epidemiologists or experts in any way, we do feel strongly that it is important to share the research we have found and the prevailing thoughts on the subject.  It is our hope that preventative information spreads faster than the virus. 

As previously noted in our first article about Clay & COVID, the most onerous thing about this virus is how little we ACTUALLY know for certain and how much contradictory information is reported.  In that first article we reported the information regarding how long the virus can survive in a slurry and we have added a new feature to our website to help facilitate sharing information: 

Introducing Bracker’s Community Forum 

We encourage you to post your own findings here to share with others.  The need for support right now is so great that we hope you will join us in building a network of information & resources.

If you are concerned about using any pre-packaged ceramic materials, you should not hesitate to ask your supplier about the manufacturer’s approach to Covid-19 precautions.  Here’s what we have been doing at Bracker’s to keep our staff and customers safe:
  • Since March, we have been doing a several-times daily bleach wipe down of all shared surfaces.
  • We have been maintaining social distance, in fact at the height of the pandemic, we had only 3-4 people in our building at any given time of the day, and each person was limited to their own zone (front, main warehouse, clay mixing).
  • All employees here wear masks, except when they are isolated in their own offices or areas.  All employees share a common responsibility to one another and we are all committed to not taking risks in our lives outside of work, and we all agreed to self-report any concerns.  So far, no one has had any close calls, symptoms, etc, but we continuously monitor.
  • When we opened in June, it was (and continues to be) by appointment only.  Customers are required to wear masks, their temperature is checked at the door and must be below 100ºF, and they are then issued nitrile gloves for the duration of their shopping experience.  We have a 10 minute period between appointments to do a bleach wipe down after they leave.  (Contactless pickup is also available. )
  • In terms of our clay mixing process, there is an EXCEEDINGLY low chance of any contamination.  Following all of the personal precautions our employees are committed to, our clay mixer wears an N95 mask while mixing.  The bags of raw materials are dumped into the mixer and then the water is added with the lid closed.  The clay then proceeds through the machinery and really is not touched by human hands.  When it comes out of the pug mill, it is “caught” directly into the plastic bag.  Even the twist tie is applied by a machine.  The plastic bag and the box are touched, but my understanding is that the virus can not survive on plastic or cardboard for more than a day.
  • In total, we have no more than 8 employees who enter our building on a regular basis, we’ve all been working together for over 2 years now and we take our responsibility to each other seriously….We are ALL taking Covid 19 safety very seriously.

From our forums and the conversations I have had with individual professors, I have learned (and want to share) that the microbiologist who came in to study one university’s ceramics studio was highly concerned with the tranmission of the virus via bonding to dust particles.  Discussion related to N95 masks vs face shields and other ideas to protect from this possible transmission are on this thread in the forum.  Within studios, particularly at the collegiate level (or in community studios) we have also heard concerns about the virus surviving in studio glazes and possibly splashing up on someone who mixes the glaze up before using it.  And this recent article suggests there are so many other concerns about how the virus can spread than were originally considered/reported.  So what do we do?

At $725 each, these personal inflatable bubbles are probably not a realistic option for the classroom (or for life).

So how do we keep ourselves, our students, and our environments safe? 

Below are a variety of products that can help reduce contamination, spread and personal risk.  Some are products that Brackers (and many ceramic suppliers) will have, some are things we have found which are available elsewhere (links included). We hope you find these suggestions to be helpful. 

Again, if you have suggestions of your own, or questions or concerns not addressed here, please head over to our forums and join or start a conversation there!

Clay Bags – We are making these available (sold in bundles of 25) for teachers who wish to partition clay and provide a storage bag for each individual student.  $5.00/bundle

More packaging products – we have pint jars, 4 oz and 2 oz jars for partitioning decorating products to each student.  

Many schools are purchasing additional tool sets to check out individual tools to each student.  The Made-in-the-USA Kemper brand Pottery Tool Kit is still the most popular assortment, however we do have budget-friendly alternatives from economy quality tool sets to custom assortments of only the tools you need.

N95 masks….We do have some available.  They are not available for purchase via our website because we are limiting purchases on them for obvious reasons.  We want to work with professors (and schools) to provide enough to handle the basic needs if possible.  Please limit your request to the number you need to prevent the complete shutdown of your program so that we can help as many institutions as possible.  

Aprons!  We just got these inexpensive red aprons.  At $5.00 a piece, each student can afford to have their own apron.  

Nitrile Gloves are great for protecting surfaces from germs passed via touch.  We get ours from Uline.

We saw an instagram video of Doug Jeppesen using a disinfecting gun to spray down wheels and classroom furniture.  The gun isn’t cheap, we found them listed online for around $700, but it does provide a fairly fast option to sanitize surfaces between sessions.  Click below to learn more about it and find a local distributor for it (nationwide distribution….support your local economy and buy local when you can!)

Linda Ganstrom shared a face shield she found on AMAZON

We found a great source for the disposable medical gowns that Emergency Room staff wear.  These will cover a large portion of a student’s body, and it should help to serve as a barrier or “splash guard” when working in the studio.  

 

Final thoughts/author’s note: I would like to again point out that we are not microbioligists, epidemiologists, scientists or doctors. We are clay people, and we care about other clay people and clay programs, and we don’t want to see these things disappear because there’s not enough information to persuade administrators, parents, etc that clay can be taught safely. It is my goal to use Bracker’s website to act as a hub of information and share what we (collectively) have learned. I spend a lot of time researching, learning, and then writing because I am passionate about advocacy. But this can be frightening because of the possibility of liability and law suits and all of the things that often keep people in our country from doing good things. Please consider this our plain-english version of the legal mumbo jumbo that would state something unintelligible that basically means to use common sense, appropriately apply this information within your own context, and do some of your own research. It is my goal to continue to provide information to support school teachers here on our website, and that includes a wide variety of information ranging from ideas for how to teach clay remotely, or how to teach it safely in the studio. I hope more people will join me in this common sense open dialogue.