With Covid-19 cases rising and cold and flu season on the horizon, schools must focus on common-sense cleaning and disinfecting practices if they want a safe return, the American Cleaning Institute says.
On Nov. 16, Fairfax County Public Schools will open in-person instruction for Early Head Start, pre-kindergarten, kindergarten, and special-education students receiving intensive supports and attending center-based programs, according to an update sent to parents on Oct. 23. In-person cohort learning will begin on Nov. 30 for grades 1-2 and special-education students in career centers.
In partnership with the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, the ACI is asking schools and families to encourage children to wash their hands with soap at school and at home. Hand hygiene is a foundational habit for slowing the spread of the novel coronavirus and seasonal illnesses like influenza, especially in schools.
“It’s so simple and so important, especially at schools, as they plan to reopen,” said Brian Sansoni, the Senior Vice President of Communication, Outreach and Membership at the American Cleaning Institute.
But among adults in the United States, hand-washing rates are down compared to the start of the pandemic, according to a recent survey by the ACI. Parents play as big a role as schools in forming hand hygiene habits, Sansoni said.
“Kids see what parents do and don’t do,” he said. “Reinforcing habits at home is really important for setting examples.”
Schools must be extra diligent in communicating to parents the importance of hand-washing habits at home. Schools must also be hyper-vigilant in restocking soap and hand-sanitizer dispensers, and providing supervision and encouraging hand-washing before eating and after restroom use.
“Where the extra care is required, hopefully there is communication between parents and school staff,” Sansoni said.
Another common-sense practice is disinfecting high-touch hot-spots daily. These zones include desks, chairs, tables, countertops, knobs, light-switches, classroom electronics, toilets, and drinking fountains.
Coincidentally, the COVID-19 pandemic hit as the ACI was planning to revamp its Healthy Schools, Healthy People initiative, Sansoni said. This year, the institute was preparing to focus more on hand hygiene and cleaning as a way of reducing absenteeism caused by seasonal illnesses.
“Once we get past this, hopefully, we don’t take our foot off the pedal when it comes to common-sense hygiene,” Sansoni said. “The cold and flu happen every year, and there are countless school days lost due to infection among students and staff.”
Pre-pandemic, the ACI spoke with school nurses across the nation and learned that nurses, at the front lines of school health, face an uphill battle with hygiene education.
Some nurses were frustrated at the lack of soap and cleaning materials, Sansoni said. In other areas, nurses needed their school districts and systems to encourage everyone to exemplify good behaviors.
“They have a tough job,” Sansoni said. “They try to emphasize this year round.”
Photo via the CDC