Spring break vacation.
It’s something students, teachers and administrators look forward to every March.
Unfortunately, this year’s holiday has been overshadowed by social distancing, travel bans and quarantine. Most public and private schools have extended their typical spring holidays to coincide with the U.S. government’s 15-day mandate of isolation and quarantine.
So, when exactly will schools open again?
No one really knows; the delay could be as short as a few weeks or as long as several months. However, school administrators are being encouraged to implement improved cleaning guidelines before classes resume. The Center for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) says schools play an important role in the effort to prevent the introduction and spread of COVID-19 into US communities:
“Through collaboration and coordination with local health departments, schools should take steps to disseminate information about the disease and its potential transmission within their school community. Schools should prepare to take steps to prevent the spread of COVID-19 among their students and staff should local health officials identify such a need.”
In this article, we’ll review the CDC’s recommended everyday cleaning guidelines for schools: Encouraging hand hygiene, following proper cleaning protocols and communicating routinely. For a more comprehensive list of guidelines, check out the CDC’s Interim Guidance for Administrators of US K-12 Schools and Childcare Programs
How to Implement CDC Cleaning Guidelines for Schools
Before reviewing the suggested guidelines, it’s worth reviewing the difference between cleaning and disinfecting. According to the CDC, though similar in nature, the two terms are distinct:
- Cleaning is defined as the removal of dirt and impurities, including germs, from surfaces. Cleaning alone does not kill germs, but it decreases their number and therefore any risk of spreading infection.
- Disinfecting is defined as the process of using chemicals to kill germs on surfaces. This process does not necessarily clean dirty surfaces or remove germs. But killing germs remaining on a surface after cleaning further reduces any risk of spreading infection.
Now, let’s review the recommended cleaning sanitation guidelines for schools:
1. Maintain Proper Cleaning Supplies
The CDC recommends wiping down commonly used items, before disinfecting them with diluted household bleach, cleaning liquids containing at least 70 percent alcohol or EPA-registered household disinfectants. This process will clean the most germs.
Disinfectant Solution Options:
- Diluted Bleach Mixture: 5 tablespoons (1/3rd cup) bleach per gallon of water or 4 teaspoons bleach per quart of water.
- Alcohol Solutions: Must contain at least 70 percent alcohol.
- EPA-Registered Disinfectants: Click here for a list.
- Products containing Sodium hypochlorite, Isopropanol and Ethanol are said to be the most effective, according to the CDC.
**Tips for bleach activations: Follow manufacturer’s instructions for application and proper ventilation. Check to ensure the product is not past its expiration date. Never mix household bleach with ammonia or any other cleanser.
2. Teach Recommended Hygiene Practices
Next, administrators are encouraged to review proper hygiene practices with teachers and staff. The CDC recommends washing hands with an alcohol-based hand sanitizer containing at least 70 percent alcohol and/or washing hands with warm, soapy water for 30 seconds.
Teachers should review handwashing techniques with students. Some educators teach children to wash their hands, while they sing a common song of the same length. Posters, health promotion materials and other relevant materials outlining sanitation guidelines should be distributed.
When to Sanitize Hands
- After blowing one’s nose, coughing, or sneezing
- After using the restroom
- Before eating or preparing food
Other School Sanitation Tips:
- Avoid touching eyes, nose, or mouth with unwashed hands.
- Provide classrooms with wet wipes, hand sanitizer, and tissues.
- Cover coughs with the inside of elbows.
Post handwashing signs in bathrooms that remind both staff and guests to wash their hands for 20 to 30 seconds. Some outlets recommend washing for as long as it takes to sing the Happy Birthday song.
3. Enhance Cleaning Guideline Efforts
Teachers, administrators, and custodial staff should clean frequently touched items throughout the day. The best way to ensure school team members follow cleaning guidelines is through the distribution of a daily checklist.
The cleaning procedure should detail items that should be wiped down, at what time cleanings should occur and other important reminders for safety protocol. Optimize your cleaning checklist process by implementing an accountability step between teachers and administrators. You can accomplish this objective by requiring teachers to “sign off” paper checklists or utilizing a digital solution, like MaintainX.
Surfaces to clean will vary by school, but here’s a list of commonly touched items worth including on your checklist:
Items to Disinfect:
- Desks, tables, learning surfaces
- Toys, writing utensils, learning materials
- Faucet handles, light switches
- Any items that are commonly touched
Custodial staff should also be aware of special guidelines for disinfecting specific areas of the school, like bathrooms. Administrators must provide them with gloves, respirator masks and tutorials on best practices for safely using disinfectants. This may require that instructional training materials and training be provided in other languages.
4. Develop Information Sharing Systems
The CDC recommends schools create “information-sharing systems that can be used for day-to-day reporting (on information such as changes in absenteeism) and disease surveillance efforts to detect and respond to an outbreak.” What exactly is an information-sharing system?
It’s an agreed-upon method of communication between school administrators, staff and local health officials. While most school systems are great at distributing information from the top-down, many fail at creating easy-to-use communication channels from the ground, back to the top.
Put simply, it’s just as important for a janitor to be able to provide important feedback on school cleaning guidelines, as it is for an administrator to distribute such information. The most effective organizational communication system for today’s largest organizations are internal messaging apps.
Modern software programs allow organizational members to instantly message both individuals and groups in private channels. The most popular example of such technology right now is Slack. Though we haven’t yet seen many schools utilizing internal messaging apps, we fully expect these software programs to become the standard over the next decade.
However, pure communication tools like Slack lack the operational functionality that schools need. Operational software like MaintainX can offer the ability to coordinate work, including maintenance and safety-related tasks, as well as assist with communication
Here’s what the MaintainX chat function looks like:
Not only can school administrators assign work orders, but they can also communicate with teachers, nurses and custodial workers in real-time via the app’s integrated chat feature. Again, this is a simple way for school administrators to stay abreast of what’s happening in all departments on a moment-to-moment basis.
5. Review and Update Emergency Operations Plans (EOPs)
Finally, the CDC requests that school administrators develop emergency operations plans in collaboration with local health departments.
Administrators should strategize social distancing, continuing education, meal programs, and other related programs in the event of school dismissal. The new cleaning and safety guidelines should emphasize the aforementioned preventative hygienic actions.
All emergency operations plans should include detailed information on what to do before, during and after potential outbreaks. Furthermore, staff should have easy access to such plans.
Organizing Cleaning Guidelines for Schools
If you’re a school administrator who needs help setting-up more efficient communication and operational management systems, we’re here to help.
MaintainX currently works with many school districts to help implement scheduled and standardized procedures. School administrators create digital sanitation procedures, track compliance history and maintain 2-way communication with school personnel. Our user-friendly app simplifies the work order process from creation to assignment, allowing anyone with a smartphone to easily navigate checklists in seconds.
Click here to get started.