COVID-19 has changed the definition of normal. It has impacted every type of facility - from airports to hotels, from public transport to residential buildings. The pandemic has not even spared the schools. Till 2019, ‘Back to school’ was an exciting time of the year. However, times have changed. The very idea of going back to school is a challenge today, with school authorities putting several disinfection strategies in place to make it safe for students to attend their classes. While most of the schools have resorted to online classes, children can’t miss real school for long.
Every year, school authorities conduct a deep cleaning of their facilities before students join. This year, some extra steps have to be taken. Here’s a lowdown of the safety measures that need to be taken to ensure safety of students and staff.
Maintaining social distancing is the need of the hour. However, it is a challenge to enforce it in schools. The authorities can place X's taped to seats to remind students that they must sit six feet spaced apart in the lunchroom, libraries, classrooms, et al.
Keep spraying disinfectants
The key to maintaining a facility is to thoroughly disinfect it from time to time. The same holds true for schools. In fact, schools across the world were forced to make several changes to procedures for this school year because of the coronavirus pandemic, including mask requirements and extra cleaning and disinfection. However, it should be noted that cleaning and disinfection products should not be used by or near students. It should also be ensured that there is adequate ventilation (air flow) when using chemical products to prevent yourself or others from inhaling toxic fumes.
PPE is essential
Whether it is your cleaning staff handling strong disinfectants or your employees and students protecting themselves, the appropriate use of PPE is essential.
How to use a disinfectant in school?
1. Use an EPA-approved disinfectant against COVID-19. While there are multiple products promising to disinfect, only the EPA approved ones actually battle COVID-19.
2. Always follow the directions on the label. Check ‘use sites’ and ‘surface types’ to find out where the product can be used. Pay close attention to ‘precautionary statements’.
3. Clean surfaces and determine how areas will be disinfected. Clean surfaces with soap and water prior to disinfection. Routinely clean and disinfect frequently touched surfaces at least daily.
4. Follow the specified contact time. Apply the product (e.g., spray or wipe a surface) and allow it to dry according to the specified contact time on the label.
5. Wear gloves and wash your hands with soap and water. Discard disposable gloves after each cleaning and disinfection. For reusable gloves, dedicate a pair to disinfecting surfaces to prevent the spread of COVID-19. After removing gloves, wash your hands with soap and water for at least 20 seconds.
6. Store chemicals in a secure location. Keep product lids closed tightly and store products in a location away from students’ reach and sight.
General precautions for the cleaning staff after an ill student has been in your facility
What happens if a student in the school is affected by COVID-19? It goes beyond doubt that the cleaning staff plays the frontline warriors by disinfecting the entire facility. But does that not put their lives to risk?
The fact is that the risk of getting COVID-19 from cleaning is low. The following are general precautions for cleaning staff, given that community transmission of COVID-19 is occurring:
• Staff should not touch their face while cleaning and only after they can wash hands after cleaning.
• Cleaning staff should wear uniforms (or designated work clothes) and disposable gloves when cleaning and handling trash. Cleaning staff should change clothes at the end of a shift. It may be helpful for them to keep a change of clothes at work.
• Clothing worn while cleaning should be placed in a plastic bag until it can be laundered. Laundering should be done as soon as possible and done safely at home.
• Cleaning staff should thoroughly wash hands with soap and water for at least 20 seconds after gloves are removed.
• Staff who are responsible for cleaning and disinfecting should be trained to use disinfectants safely and effectively and to safely clean up potentially infectious materials and body fluids – blood, vomit, feces, and urine.
• All cleaning staff should be trained on the hazards of the cleaning chemicals used in the workplace.
Promoting hand hygiene in the school
The first key thing to do for COVID-19 prevention is to ensure appropriate social distancing is adhered to. The next best thing is to regularly clean hands. Cleaning hands at key times with soap and water for at least 20 seconds or using an alcohol-based hand sanitizer with at least 60% alcohol if soap and water is not readily available is one of the most important steps a person can take to avoid getting sick. This helps prevent a variety of infections.
Establishing a culture of hand hygiene in schools
• Teach and reinforce handwashing with soap and water for at least 20 seconds and increase monitoring to ensure teachers, students, and staff comply.
• Students follow their time table. So include some time slots for hand washing in it.
• Make hand sanitizers with at least 60% alcohol available for teachers, staff, and students. Place them near frequently touched surfaces (e.g., water fountains, doors, shared equipment) and areas where soap and water are not readily available (e.g., cafeterias, classrooms, gyms).
• Raise hand hygiene awareness throughout the school by placing visual cues such as posters, stickers, and other materials in highly visible areas.
School hygiene fact sheet
• CDC recommends washing hands with soap and water because handwashing reduces the amounts of all types of germs and chemicals on hands. But if soap and water are not available, using a hand sanitizer with at least 60% alcohol can help you avoid getting sick and spreading germs to others.
• Soap and water remove all types of germs from hands, while sanitizer acts by killing certain germs on the skin. Although alcohol-based hand sanitizers can quickly reduce the number of germs in many situations, they should be used in the right situations.
• Hand sanitizers are less effective than hand washing in some situations
• Alcohol-based hand sanitizers kill the virus that causes COVID-19 when used correctly. However, hand sanitizers do not eliminate all types of germs, including some germs that cause diarrhea. Always wash hands with soap and water after using the toilet.
• Hand sanitizers might not remove harmful chemicals, like pesticides and heavy metals, from hands.
Schools: The indoor air perspective
Schools have finally re-opened after a 6-month lockdown. The world of education will be a lot different for children returning to their schools. The schools, on their part, are giving utmost importance to hygiene and safety of the facility. And one of the crucial aspects in safety is Indoor Air.
According to the American Society of Heating Refrigeration and Air Conditioning Engineers (ASHRAE) has stated, “Transmission of SARS-CoV-2 through the air is sufficiently likely that airborne exposure to the virus should be controlled. Changes to building operations, including the operation of heating, ventilating, and air conditioning systems, can reduce airborne exposures.”
Many studies have shown that there is a direct link between air quality and children’s cognitive performance. Hence, good IAQ is a direct result of a healthy indoor environment and can help schools reach their primary goal of educating children. Moreover, it reduces absenteeism, improve test scores and enhances student and staff productivity. Add to that a pandemic, and the situation becomes more intense.
Of course, social distancing, wearing a facemask, and thoroughly cleaning and disinfecting are critical right now. But is it enough? Several studies have shown that in many cases, students and teachers are learning and working in facilities that do not provide even the recommended levels of fresh air and as a result have high levels of CO2 and VOCs, making it more difficult to teach and learn. The pandemic just raises these statistics to another level.
Why are schools vulnerable?
hether we want to believe it or not, schools are rather vulnerable to infections. And the reasons for this are aplenty. Despite the heightened awareness of COVID-19, children are not yet mature enough to consider the consequences of touching surfaces or their faces and not washing their hands. They are more likely to cough and breathe in direct proximity to others. Many of them share food, drinks, and personal items. Not just that. Schools tend to have a dizzying number and variety of people crowded in smaller spaces, making rather vulnerable for infections. No doubt, even children are inclined to move in packs - with little to no thought given to personal space.
How can schools effectively disinfect air?
Recent studies have shown that the COVID-19 virus can persist in the air for about 3 hours. This is rather alarming. But a sensitive place like a school can take a lot of effective measures to ensure that the air quality is up to the standards within the facility. Which is why, it is important for schools, to be more aware and understand why maintaining quality indoor air is important.
One needs to constantly monitor the environment and test, measure, consult experts to understand if the school’s existing HVAC system is operating to its maximum efficiency. Maintenance of HVAC units is equally important. It will enable the school to take corrective measures. The virus may not stay for long in the units - but they may persist in the air. Even if your facility is unoccupied, turning on the HVAC unit for a couple of hours a day is important. Moreover, if you are opening your school after a long hiatus, ensure that the HVAC unit has been turned on for a minimum of 24-36 hours prior.
Disinfection is the key word out here too. One needs to carry out regular duct cleaning and disinfection. It is very important to understand the source of contamination - if at all. Last but not the least, it comes down to choosing the right products. The market is filled with the ‘right products’ but one cannot emphasis enough on using certified products that have a proven advantage over others in cleaning your indoor air effectively.
How do you choose a product that is tailor made for your facility?
As mentioned earlier, the market is constantly innovating and coming up with many solutions for schools to choose from. Here are few handy tips that can help you make an informed decision for your facility:
• Research for products available in the market that cater to your specific needs
• Look for valid local and international certifications that prove the effectiveness of the product.
• Ensure that the product prevents the spread of harmful pollutants including viruses, bacteria, mould, and fine particles.
• Ensure that it eliminates chemical pollutants of internal origin such as VOCs and odors emanated by that come from carpets, furniture, paints, etc.
• Ensure that it effectively disinfects the indoor environment - keeping the air clean at all times.
It all boils down to how informed you are about the importance of quality air and the impact it has on children and staff alike. The indoor air quality of a school can be maintained quite easily and successfully if the facility manager is aware and takes the right precautionary measures by using the right certified solutions for the facility.