Preventing the spread of flu in schools
As the temperatures dip lower and the days get shorter, it’s inevitable that everyone starts coughing and the flu spreads like wildfire. When a flu outbreak hits, not only do students suffer, but schools can experience closures due to a decrease in attendance. According to reports by the nonprofit education site The 74, schools were closed in at least 12 states in 2018 due to heightened cases of the flu occurring on the premises. During the cold and flu season, facility managers and their custodial staff are tasked with ensuring educational facilities stay properly cleaned and disinfected to prevent the spread of illness and decrease the number of school closures. To be successful in this effort, there are several best practices that should be integrated into every cleaning program for optimal results.
Know the Terminology
It is a common misconception that cleaning, disinfecting and sanitizing all serve the same purpose. However, the types of germs you want to remove or kill should inform your cleaning routine to prevent the spread of germs. To ensure success, there are several factors to keep in mind during the cold and flu season:
• Cleaning usually involves removing visible debris, dirt and dust from surfaces and objects by using soap and water or physical removal techniques. Cleaning does not have claims to kill germs but can help the process by removing them and decreasing the risk of spreading infection. Overall, cleaning should occur before disinfecting or sanitizing surfaces, as either of those processes can be compromised if cleaning is insufficient.
• Disinfecting chemicals kill at least 99.9999% of germs on surfaces or objects as designated on a product’s US EPA registered label. Many disinfectants do not necessarily clean dirty surfaces, but rather kill surface pathogens to help prevent the spread of infection. Disinfectant label instructions should be followed in order to comply with the equirements for proper solution preparation, surface application, pathogen efficacy, and contact time.
• Sanitizing chemicals kill at least 99.99% of germs on surfaces or objects as designated on a product’s US EPA registered label. Sanitizing hot spots, such as desks, throughout the school day can help combat the spread of germs. Sanitizing is also most frequently used within school cafeterias to make sure pathogens are reduced to a safe level before preparing food on a surface. Sanitizer label instructions should be followed in order to comply with the requirements for proper solution preparation, surface application, pathogen efficacy, and contact time.
Disinfection as set forth by the US EPA is held to a higher standard and requires a higher percentage of kill as compared to other sanitization requirements. Using these terms accurately and conveying them to your staff can eliminate miscommunication, and could be the difference between the continued spread of illness or germ elimination.
Stick to a Routine
Even during the summer months and holiday breaks, it is important to note that schools are susceptible to pathogenic organisms. As a result, cleaning staff should make it a priority to continue with a regimented, routine cleaning, sanitizing, and disinfecting process for all high-touch surfaces and objects throughout the year.
Research shows the flu virus can live and potentially infect a person for up to 48 hours after being spread to a surface, making daily cleaning absolutely critical. Ongoing cleaning, sanitizing, and disinfecting efforts will greatly increase the chances of preventing the spread of germs.
Identify and Tackle the Hot Spots
In addition to a daily cleaning routine, flu season calls for extra effort in high-touch areas, or “hot spots.” Identifying some of the most contaminated places in a school is the first step for attacking harmful pathogens. Typical hot spots include surfaces such as cafeteria tables, computer keyboards, bathroom paper towel dispenser handles, water fountains, library tables, classroom desks, teacher desks, and faucets in the bathroom sinks. These high-touch objects should be thoroughly cleaned and disinfected.
Choose the Right Product
It is tough to know where to start when looking for facility cleaners, disinfectants, and sanitizers, as searches often yield a barrage of options with technical jargon. Selecting the right product can be an overwhelming process, but it’s critical to know what solution is the most effective for your environment. To ensure the right selection, cleaning staff should read the EPA label to make sure the product has been proven effective against the flu virus.
Details such as dwell time are an important feature to consider when choosing the right product. For busy facilities like schools, it may not be practical to choose a disinfectant that requires a 10-minute contact time. Products such as 3M™ MBS Disinfectant Cleaner Concentrates allow reduced contact times to help cleaning staff effectively disinfect hard, non-porous surfaces without disrupting the natural flow of the building.
Use Products Safely and Correctly
Using a cleaner, disinfectant, or sanitizer correctly is extremely important, and staff should always read and understand the EPA label first to know the approved usage. Once everyone is familiar with the product, cleaning staff should follow the label directions carefully as there may be a specific procedure for utilization and implementation, such as a mandatory dwell time or a dilution factor.
For dwell time, if the product is removed before the required amount of time, it may run the risk of not completely killing the pathogen as indicated on the product label. Futhermore, for accurate dilution, too much of a product could damage surfaces and overexpose students and staff to the chemistry, while too little may not allow for the appropriate chemical ratio needed for proper disinfection per the product label, thus exposing students and staff to harmful pathogens. Fortunately, a chemical management system can help simplify the process by ensuring proper dilution and application.