Preventing colds and the flu from spreading throughout a school is always a challenge. At the start of 2018, schools in 12 states had to close for at least one full day due to the flu, according to education news provider The 74.
School closures or frequent student absences are enormously disruptive to classrooms. And in cases where school funding is tied to attendance, student absences are costly, notes Rick Clemons, Staples Facilities Solutions National Manager for Education & Government Markets.
“If 5 to 8 percent of students in a given school year are absent because of illness, it can add up to millions of dollars in lost funding for an individual school district,” he says. In light of that, it makes much more sense to invest in a program to prevent an outbreak, rather than lose much more in attendance-related funding.
Stopping cold and flu viruses requires a group effort and systematic approach. Here are Clemons’ recommendations for warding off an outbreak.
Enlist the School Community
Controlling infections is a team effort, so work with stakeholders — from the district-level superintendent to the teachers, nurse and even Parent Teacher Association — to implement and encourage best practices. For example, the school nurse can help you launch a hand sanitizer program and scout out strategic locations throughout buildings to place dispensers. Teachers can demonstrate proper hand washing techniques to younger students, or encourage older ones to wipe down common surfaces with disinfecting wipes.
Constant communication is key here. Notify the school community of your plans for beating back germs, and issue reminders on how individuals and classrooms can protect themselves. Ask administrators to share your messages with teachers and students.
Be sure to keep stakeholders updated on your cleaning efforts, and ask them to keep you in the loop on important factors, including student absences. You can work together as a team to figure out the best steps and preventative measures to take.
Take a Thorough Approach to Cleaning
While it’s common practice to perform a visual and smell check after cleaning a classroom or restroom, this does not determine whether bacteria and viruses have truly been eliminated. Periodic objective and quantitative testing, such as ATP monitoring, can be conducted to determine if a cleaning and sanitizing process is effective.
Clemons recommends referencing The ISSA Clean Standard: K-12, which was created specifically for K-12 schools with input from school and industry professionals. Along with this standard, other established tactics for proper cleaning include:
• Stock up on products: Hand sanitizer, disinfectant wipes and sanitizing sprays are crucial for getting rid of cold and flu germs. Make sure you have enough on hand to regularly clean surfaces and combat potential outbreaks. A shortage of the right supplies can quickly lead to an illness being spread.
• Launch an initiative: Communicate the ISSA Clean Standard: K-12 and encourage teachers and students to wipe down common surfaces. Clever, fun posters can be effective at conveying the message, so consider working with the school nurse to create a program that promotes best practices and grabs attention.
• Invest in cleaning technology: Innovative cleaning tools can provide an extra level of protection. One example is an electrostatic sprayer — like the Clorox Total 360 or the Protexus Handheld Electrostatic Sprayer — in which the solution completely wraps around a surface and sanitizes it in a matter of minutes.
• Look into air quality: Although infected surfaces are a leading cause of colds and the flu, research from the University of Maryland shows that these viruses can be transmitted by breathing them in. High-efficiency particulate air (HEPA) filters or air purifiers are effective tools for removing viruses from the air. Ultraviolet light-based technology can also help.
• Ask your supplier: Your suppliers are knowledgeable about the most effective products and programs for preventing colds and the flu, so enlist their help to find the optimal solution for your school. Ask them if they have seen certain solutions or practices work in other schools they sell to.
Ahead of the cold and flu season — which starts in October and can last through March — take steps to create your plan and acquire your supplies. Preseason is a good time to meet with school administrators to emphasize the importance of a community-wide approach to keeping staff and students healthy and focused on learning. This is also a good time to enlist the help of staffers willing to help you create and distribute fliers and other communications to keep involvement strong all year long.