SSMT and COVID-19
May 17, 2021 update: Since reopening in September, more than 9 months ago, no one – no student, instructor, administrator, clinic client, or visitor – has contracted COVID-19 on the SSMT campus. We have quarantined several classes for 14 days after someone in the classroom contracted COVID-19 outside school, but none of the quarantined students or instructors developed COVID-19.
Since reopening, our building has seen more than 60,000 person-hours indoors. That we have had students (rarely – just four times) practice massage for five hours in class with a partner at the peak of pre-symptomatic COVID-19, without contracting the disease from that partner, tells us out policies work.
This has been quite a year for everyone on the planet. For anyone like me, who has built a life – and a living – out of close human interaction, it has been a time for deep reflection.
Close contact with people increases the risk of infection from COVID-19. That risk increases further when contact is closer than 6 feet, and even further when it occurs indoors for durations longer than 10 or 15 minutes.
It is impossible to give or receive massage from 6 feet away, in 15 minutes, or limit classes to such a short duration.
Fortunately, we know more about how to minimize risk, even when meeting indoors for hours, than we did last spring.
SSMT reopened for live classes September 8, having held only theory classes online since March. We used the time live classes were paused to follow closely what scientists were learning about COVID-19, and how to minimize its chance of spread. We watched as other massage therapy schools around the country resumed live classes over the summer, and were pleased to note that – with a few precautions – spread in the classroom seems rare.
While we have watched other schools, open during the summer 2020 surge, send students home for quarantine because a student tested positive, we did not see a single case where a positive student spread the virus to others in the school. All the schools we’ve been in touch with require masks, some have air purification, but none have all the safety measures SSMT has adopted.
While there is no guarantee that any close human interaction is safe from spreading COVID-19, SSMT has adopted every measure that has worked in other schools, and other settings. Each measure is described in detail below the list. A few of the procedures below have been edited to update the most recent changes we’ve made to our policies.
- Ventilation – Air exchanged with the outside environment at least once every 45 minutes
- HEPA filtration – Air filtered through HEPA filters about every 8 minutes
- UV-C and Ionizers – HVAC system fitted with the only air purifier approved by NASA
- Face Masks – Except those that provide a CDC vaccination card, everyone in the building is masked always.
- Disinfection – SSMT disinfects all surfaces twice each day with the most non-toxic disinfectant on the FDA’s approved list.
- Physical Distancing – Except for trading partners and practical instructors, everyone maintains at least six feet of distance – and often much more
- Online Instruction – Some science and theory classes are held online
- Limited Class Size – to accommodate distancing, class size is limited
Ventilation – There is a vent in the exterior wall allowing outside air into the HVAC system, so fresh exterior air is cooled and pumped into the classrooms and offices. The four classrooms have exhaust fans that draw air up and out of the room through the roof. The entire volume of air in the classrooms is exchanged every 45 minutes. These rooms are also used as student clinic rooms.
HEPA filtration – There are two HEPA filtration units in each classroom, and similar units in the offices, library, bathrooms, and reception area. These turn over the entire volume of air in the classrooms over seven times each hour, passing it through what is essentially an N95 mask for indoor air.
UV-C and Ionizers – SSMT has installed Aerus Air Scrubber units in each of the four HVAC units. These have the same technology used on the space shuttle, and function whenever the unit is cooling (or heating). They pass the air through UV-C light, and produce hydroxyl ions, peroxides, and oxygen anions that are safe for humans, but attach to pathogens, pulling them out of the air, and killing them. SSMT installed the model without ozone, since ozone may have negative effects on health. We don’t expect these ionizers have nearly the effect that HEPA filters do, but every bit helps.
Face Masks – Since March 2020, there has been much research on mask effectiveness, and we have followed it closely. In March it was thought that cloth masks might protect others a small amount, but probably not the wearer. It is now clear that well-made, well-fitted masks significantly, though not perfectly, protect both the wearer and others. Students, instructors, administration, staff, and all visitors to SSMT wear face masks, with a nose-wire, that covers the nose and mouth, and fits without gaps all around.
Not all masks are created equal. Numerous studies have confirmed that bandanas and handkerchiefs do not significantly filter droplets. A study at Duke University demonstrated that polyester/spandex gaiters break large droplets into smaller ones, causing them to remain in the air and be inhaled deeper into the respiratory tract. These gaiters are actually more dangerous to both the wearer and others than no mask at all. SSMT provides a list of comfortable, realtively effective cloth masks, and provides ASTM rated surgical masks (that filter particles as small as .1 micron) for anyone who needs one.
Disinfection – SSMT disinfects all surfaces twice each day with Oxivir, a hydrogen peroxide-based disinfectant. It is a potent virucide, non-toxic to humans. (We do this mostly for general hygiene; scientists no longer think COVID-19 is spread from surfaces).
Physical Distancing – Everyone in the building maintains at least six feet of distance – and often much more, except when doing massage. Partners practicing massage are more than six feet from others at the next table.
Online Instruction – Now that we have resumed live classes on campus, most classes are held live on campus. Students will continue to attend some science and theory classes online. The online classes are streamed live, and include opportunities for participation. SSMT has created dynamic and effective visual presentations to anchor lectures and discussions. Students’ performance and enjoyment of online classes has generally been similar to what occurs in live classes.
Limited Class Size – To accommodate distancing, class size has been limited, depending on the classroom. Update June 19, 2021: We have started eleven classes since the pandemic began, including groups that started online in the spring and summer of 2020. Nine of the eleven classes have had wait lists. People exploring the possibility of attending SSMT are encouraged to begin the process early.
SSMT enthusiastically encourages all students, graduates, staff, and all other eligible Florida citizens to register to vote by clicking here.
Primary elections for the Democratic and Republican Primaries will be held in March; you have to be registered to vote. Registering is really easy. Click here to register, print a paper registration form, or pick one up at the SSMT Front Desk or Admissions Office. We will gladly stamp and mail your completed form for you if you’d like!
Join us for our Open House Discovery Experience on Friday, December 13th from 1:15 to 4:00pm.
Meet and mingle with graduates, current students, faculty, administration, and potential employers as you enjoy complimentary chair massage and refreshments, as well as a complimentary class on Treating Headaches and a short informational session. Discover more about our massage therapy program and the opportunities that exist for LMT’s.
RSVP by calling us at (941) 957-0577. We hope to see you there!
Scholarships and grants are gift aid; money that does not need to be repaid. Sarasota School of Massage Therapy students may qualify for a variety of scholarships and grants.
SSMT offers need-based scholarships to students who qualify, and the US Department of Education offers two types of need-based grants to SSMT students who qualify.
You can find out if you qualify for any (or all three) of these grants with a single, free, online application, the FAFSA.
These amounts are based on several things, including your income (and parents’ income, if you’re a dependent student), family size, and other factors. Just enter the SSMT school code (016937) when you complete the application, and SSMT will receive the information we need from the Department of Education to determine the amounts of any federal aid you may qualify for (including the two grants). It will also allow us to determine the amount of SSMT’s need-based scholarship you may qualify for.
Graduates and students often receive phone calls, emails, and mail about loan forgiveness. While it sounds great, how do you know if it’s a scam? As it turns out, most of the time, it is.
We’ve heard horror stories about students paying for help with their loans, only to find out what they paid is lost money, and their student loan balance didn’t change. Or worse, their student loan balance increased and the payment is now late, because they were working with a scammer and not their real loan servicer.
Some recent false claims the Department of Education specifically mentions include:
“Your student loans may qualify for complete discharge. Enrollments are first come, first served.” While there are discharge options due to a total and permanent disability, it’s never first come, first served.
If it sounds like you have to hurry or you’ll miss out, it’s a scam.
“Student alerts: Your student loan is flagged for forgiveness pending verification. Call now!” Again, the Department of Education does not aggressively advertise. If it sounds like something a used car salesman would say, it’s likely to be a scam.
If you receive communication like this, always call your servicer directly. Call the number listed on your monthly bill or when you log in to your online account; do not call the number listed in that particular solicitation.
If you don’t know how to reach your servicer, call SSMT! We can provide you with an accurate phone number.
Never call a number. or click a link, in a solicitation email. Call your servicer or SSMT.
Always verify the authenticity of any solicitation you receive about your student loans. Most of the time, if you received communication via any method, there will be something in your online account as well. If you received an email or regular mail, but there’s nothing related when you log in, it might be a scam.
Your loan servicer, and the Department of Education, will never ask you to pay for help. If you’re eligible for loan forgiveness, a discharge due to disability, or anything else, while you may have to provide documentation, it’s the law that you’re eligible. They cannot and will not charge a fee to determine if you’re eligible. And if you are eligible, they cannot and will not charge you fees to process the request.
They also cannot and will not charge you any fees for processing a deferment or forbearance request or for changing your repayment plan. Under the law, borrowers may be eligible (under certain circumstances) for a deferment, forbearance, or changing their repayment plan. While it’s not guaranteed that you are eligible, your servicer will never charge to give you information, or to process your application, for any of these things.
We’re here to help! If you need information or just want a reassuring “second set of eyes” to check out the communication you received, just ask us. We’ll help you determine if it looks like it might be a scam, and we’ll help you reach out to your real loan servicer.
Update Monday 9/2/19 11 AM
SSMT will be open all week.
There is no longer any risk of hurricane force winds on the gulf coast of Florida. There is a slight chance of tropical storm force winds (less than 20% from Venice to Bradenton); if that materializes, we will revisit this.
Update Saturday 8/31/19 8 AM
The forecast now likely spares Sarasota and Manattee Counties. At this point we are planning to be open on Tuesday, but this is still subject to change as the forecast becomes clearer.
It looks like southwest Florida will likely experience the effects of Hurricane Dorian. If we close the school, this post will be updated to reflect that. School closings will be announced on the school’s voice mail and the class facebook pages, in addition to this post.
The National Hurricane Center (NHC) currently predicts the storm to pass north of us. The NHC points out that their forecast this far out (over five days for Sarasota) has an average error of about 200 miles, which means the storm might not affect us, or the eye might cross the state, pass right over us, and head into the Gulf.
We could be experiencing tropical storm force winds, and heavy rain, for 3 full days, beginning Sunday.
The greatest likelihood at this point is that we will experience tropical storm force winds while a major hurricane batters the east coast. The current prediction is for the worst damage to be on the east coast, and north of us.
Even though we are likely to be spared the worst of it, there is a very good chance (the NHC currently has it at 65%) that we will experience at least tropical storm force winds and a lot of rain. The ground is already soggy, and it won’t take much to uproot trees, and down power lines. We could experience heavy flooding and loss of power.
We urge everyone to prepare for for a significant storm. If your pet is not current with vaccinations, it may not be taken at a shelter, so get your pet vaccinated before the weekend.
Heading back to school can be stressful for both kids and parents. Scrambling for school supplies, shoes, backpacks and uniforms; meeting teachers; hauling multiple boxes of crayons, scissors, and paper to classrooms – all take a toll! Yet, while the slower pace of summer is enjoyable, the consistency of the school year can provide relief for some families, and allow time for new projects.
So what about going back to school yourself, even if you have your own kids in school? The majority of SSMT students have children under 18 at home, and they not only find it manageable, but many also say their kids are inspired by seeing their parents studying and pursuing their dream. Our next classes start in September, so you can get through the August rush with your kids before focusing on your own education.
Our massage therapy students who attend day classes either take advantage of a Before-Care Program at their child’s school or they have a family member drop the child off in the mornings. Many schools in Manatee and Sarasota counties have low-or no-cost Before School programs. SSMT day students finish class at 1:00 – before their children have been dismissed for the day. Most evening students have help with their kids from family members while they attend classes – just three evenings per week.
Your children can also affect your own financial aid eligibility. The number of children you support is reported on your Free Application for Federal Student Aid (FAFSA) and impacts your grant and scholarship eligibility. The SSMT administration and staff want to see every student succeed. We want to help you figure out if this is the right path for you and make sure you’re set up for success, whatever your situation may be. Having kids go back to school can be a great time to consider enriching your own life as well.
If you’re having trouble making your student loan payments, there are many ways to find relief. The Department of Education provides a variety of repayment plans to keep you on track without causing you hardship. Sometimes that’s not enough, and you need to stop payments altogether for a period of time. That’s called forbearance.
There are two types of forbearance: mandatory and discretionary, and it can last up to 12 months. You will find that your FFELP or Direct Loan lenders are not like your auto loan lenders or credit card companies, in that they often want you to succeed and will try to help you through difficult times.
Lenders are required to provide a mandatory forbearance if you meet certain qualifications, which include:
- Your monthly loan payment is 20% or more of your gross monthly income
- You are serving in a medical or dental residency and meet specific requirements
- You are teaching in a program that qualifies for teacher loan forgiveness
- You are serving in an organization such as AmeriCorps
- You are called into active military duty
- You qualify for partial repayment under the U.S. Dept. Of Defense Student Loan Repayment Program.
A discretionary forbearance is one that is granted to you by your lender, even when they aren’t required to do so by regulations. It’s smarter for lenders to grant you a discretionary forbearance and reevaluate your situation in 6 or 12 months than to let you go into default and send you to collections. Most lenders will approve forbearance for illness, unexpected expenses, or financial hardship, even if your loan payment is less than 20% of your gross monthly income.
Your loan interest, on both Subsidized and Unsubsidized loans, continues to accrue while you’re in forbearance, but (unlike going into default) forbearance status will not affect your credit score. The interest will be added to your principal balance and then you’ll be charged interest upon interest as time passes. If you can afford to, make interest-only payments on your loan during forbearance.
Start the process by contacting your loan servicer. If you’re an SSMT grad and don’t know who to contact, just ask us and we’ll be happy to look it up for you.
With PTSD Awareness Day coming up June 27th, this seems like a good time to talk about trauma and massage therapy.
Posttraumatic Stress Disorder (PTSD) is increasingly being viewed as one end of the trauma spectrum, and for many people dealing with the effects of trauma, massage therapy can be part of their healing.
PTSD can affect people exposed, either personally or as a witness, to an event involving violence, serious injury, death, or the threat of death. Intense perception of threat triggers the “fight, flight, or freeze” response, leading to imbalances in neurotransmitters and hormones, in turn leading to emotional symptoms that can be debilitating. There can also be physical symptoms such as chronic tension and pain.
Many theorists consider the physical and emotional symptoms to be related. Peter Levine’s groundbreaking book on trauma “Waking the Tiger” and the more recent “Forward Facing Trauma Therapy” by Eric Gentry approach the treatment of trauma spectrum disorders, including PTSD, by focusing on physical tension held in the body. Both are excellent reads for laypeople, written by professionals.
Since muscular tension is tied to the physical and emotional pain of trauma disorders, massage therapy might be an effective component of treatment. One important effect of massage therapy is stress reduction; massage decreases the fight, flight, or freeze response, decreasing the levels of the neurochemicals involved in that response. It also decreases muscle tension and pain.
A pilot study by the National Center for Biotechnology Information (a division of the National Institutes of Health) on National Guard veteran patients resulted in a significant reduction in pain, tension, irritability, anxiety and depression when patients received even just one 20-minute weekly massage. These reductions were felt immediately after massage and long-term analysis suggested decreased baseline levels of tension and irritability.
According to the same study, perceived stigma associated with seeking behavioral health care is still a hurdle for many PTSD sufferers. Massage therapy can also carry less of that stigma for patients.
Massage therapy triggers the body’s relaxation response in the brain, helps break the “fight or flight” cycle, can improve sleep function and circulation, and fights physical pain resulting from chronic tension or the traumatic injury itself.
In the spirit of Autism Awareness Month, here are some of the research findings (accumulated by Tina Allen, at the Liddle Kidz Foundation®) on massage therapy and autism.
Research indicates that massage therapy may promote more on-task and social relatedness behavior during play among children with Autism Spectrum Disorder (ASD). Improvements in this area can have a profound effect on quality of life.
There is evidence that children with ASD show less erratic behavior, are more attentive, and demonstrate reduced touch aversion and withdrawal after receiving massage therapy. Over time, touch therapy also helps the child to become more accustomed to tactile stimulation and aides in body awareness. Often by incorporating massage therapy into daily routines, children with Autism experience decreased issues with sleeping.
And just as massage therapy can provide relaxation, stress reduction and calm muscle spasms in the general population, there is evidence that it can do the same in children with autism and ASD.