This year back to school season hasn't been like it was in the past. Additional precautions are in place to ensure the safety of students, faculty, and staff since there are many shared spaces, equipment, and supplies in schools.
From riding the school bus to learning in the classroom, or playing outside during recess – and everywhere in between, the school day involves many opportunities for children to spread germs, even with new best practices like social distancing in place. Schools are collaborating with local health departments to keep all building occupants safe so they can concentrate on their primary goal of providing quality education in a safe environment.
We understand this is a frantic time, and we're here to help. Hand soap, alcohol-based hand sanitizer, surface disinfectants, and body fluid spill kits will be vital in reopening schools safely. Here's our guidance on why these solutions are important and where to place them to create a healthier and safer learning environment.
Hand sanitizer – why it's important
Since germs are everywhere, keeping hands clean is critical to staying healthy. The pandemic has transformed how we think about hand hygiene – both our handwashing and hand sanitizing practices.
To support healthy hygiene behaviors, the Center for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) recommends that schools provide hand sanitizer with at least 60 percent alcohol to students and staff. 1 Hand sanitizer can be distributed throughout a facility in many forms, such as wall dispensers, dispenser stands, and pump bottles. For recommendations on hand sanitizer placement, visit our K-12 Well-Being Center.
Surface disinfection– maintain a healthy environment
Surface disinfection also plays a significant role in slowing the spread of germs in schools. Germs often live on surfaces that we touch, and we can pick up those germs which could potentially make us sick.
To break this cycle of germ transmission, the CDC recommends cleaning and disinfecting frequently touched surfaces within the school and on buses at least daily or between use as much as possible. 2 Make sure to read the product labels to find contact times and instructions for before and after use to help pick the right product for the job. Consider developing a schedule for increased, routine cleaning and disinfection.
Body fluid spill kits – in case of an emergency
In the event of an accident, spill kits are a great item to have to ensure a quicker, safer cleanup. To be OSHA compliant, make sure to use a kit with written instructions, disposable PPE, and a disinfectant that can effectively decontaminate the exposed area. To reduce any cross-contamination risks, use single-use products like disposable trays, mops, and disinfectants. As many of the hazardous spills within a school include biohazard waste, make sure to dispose of all mess and cleaning tools properly by following the kit's disposal instructions.
Product placement – broken down
There are three primary categories for product placement:
- High traffic areas – where all or most children visit at the same time, like main entrances, cafeterias, buses, and gyms.
- High Risk/Medium traffic areas – where many people visit during the day, but not necessarily all at once, like restrooms, media centers, and main offices. Also, consider those areas where germs are more likely to be present like food prep or trash disposal areas.
- Medium-to-low traffic areas—where few visit or stay throughout the day, like classrooms and administrative offices.
These areas will likely be cleaned with more frequency than before the pandemic, due to heightened cleaning protocols.
Since high-traffic and high-risk areas are the busiest, most frequently visited areas, they should offer readily available solutions. We recommend placing hand sanitizer dispensers in high-traffic and high-risk areas to encourage use. For surface solutions, we recommend keeping two to five gallon-refills of surface disinfectant in cafeterias, gymnasiums, and bus garages, out of the reach of children but easily accessible to staff in a nearby closet or storage area. Also, consider keeping a 32-ounce surface disinfectant spray bottle and a canister of surface disinfecting wipes on every school bus and janitorial cart for quick, convenient use throughout the day. Staff members working in high-risk areas, like food prep areas, should have soap, sanitizer, and surface disinfectants within reach. Consider placing body fluid spill kits on each school bus and in the gymnasium, cafeteria, near other emergency kits, and with the maintenance staff.
Medium-traffic areas include entrances to main offices, restrooms, nurses' stations, media centers/libraries, and other common areas. We suggest placing wall-mounted hand sanitizer dispensers outside of rooms or by doorways; when students know that product is available to them in standard locations, they are more likely to use it. Similarly, making surface disinfection products available to those responsible for maintaining common areas throughout the day will also help ensure regular use. Be sure to follow storage instructions found on the product label and look out for any hazardous statements like "DANGER" OR "WARNING" that may signify that the product should be locked away from children.
Since there isn't as much traffic going in and out of a classroom or an individual's office, it's considered a medium-to-low traffic area. We recommend placing two or three hand sanitizer pump bottles in classrooms, near entrances, and wash stations. As teachers and staff take on an increased role in disinfecting their work areas throughout the day, empower them by providing a couple of canisters of surface disinfecting wipes and surface spray to store within their rooms. Again, be sure to look out for storage directions and hazard statements on the label.
Additional safety steps
Along with increased products and solutions, teachers should follow the school's guidance on limiting physical interactions between students and discouraging the sharing of supplies, such as electronic devices, art supplies, and books whenever possible. Ensure that each child keeps their belongings separated from others' by placing them in individually labeled containers, cubbies, or assigned areas to reduce any risk of germ spread.
Of course, it's also essential to educate staff and families about when their child should stay home. Actively encourage employees and students who are sick or who were exposed to someone that was ill to stay home. Develop policies that encourage sick employees and students to stay at home without fear of punishment. Consider eliminating perfect attendance awards, not assessing schools based on absenteeism, and offering the option of virtual learning, if possible.
For additional materials to help your school, visit the K-12 Well-Being Center and PURELL® Brand Well-Being Center.