From norovirus and Methicillin-resistant Staphylococcus aureus (MRSA) to the common cold (rhinoviruses) and influenza, schools can be home to a variety of viruses that put staff, students and visitors at risk. Although schools typically know where and what to clean, some do not have standardized programs in place.
School administrations can overcome these challenges by following infection prevention best practices:
1. Create a comprehensive written cleaning plan
A cleaning plan should outline cleaning frequency for different surfaces and objects. The plan should identify high-touch surfaces like door handles and desks, which should be disinfected at least once per day. Next, the plan should specify the appropriate products, tools and equipment for cleaning. Although intermediate-level disinfectants are more expensive than low-level disinfectants, they are effective against these viral pathogens of concern. Plans should also provide detailed instructions for cleaning and disinfecting.
2. Train employees and measure cleaning performance
Schools should make sure cleaning staff members have been trained to correctly follow the written cleaning plan. To validate that cleaning is being performed at the desired level, schools should measure cleaning results using web-enabled auditing programs. These utilize innovative collection and reporting tools to track cleaning results and driving continuous improvement.
3. Don’t go overboard after an outbreak
When an outbreak occurs, schools often try to overcompensate with extreme cleaning tactics, such as closing the facility and performing top-to-bottom cleaning. CDC recommendations specify this is largely not needed for pathogens such as MRSA, colds and flu. In some cases, schools may need to close in order to perform special cleaning and disinfection processes, but this should only occur if a local public health official recommends it.
4. Consider investing in ways to improve cleanliness
For new schools being built or old facilities being remodeled, Z or L-shaped bathroom entryways eliminate the need for doors, which often spread germs. For budget-conscious schools, touch-free tools such as paper towel and hand sanitizer dispensers, trash cans and automatic doors are more affordable options for reducing the spread of infections. Disinfecting wipes placed throughout the school also promote infection prevention.
5. Encourage proper hand hygiene and respiratory etiquette
Keeping hands clean and following respiratory etiquette prevents the spread of pathogens to surfaces and others’ hands. Schools should teach everyone to frequently wash hands with hot water and soap, and sneeze or cough into their arms if facial tissue is not readily available. Keep restrooms well stocked with hand soap and paper towels, provide facial tissue in offices, classrooms, bathrooms and common areas, and consider installing touch-free hand sanitizer stations in entryways to cafeterias and gymnasiums.
6. Teach students and staff to make good choices about attendance
Schools should encourage sick students and staff to stay at home when they are contagious and consider requiring staff members to get annual influenza vaccinations in order to help curb the spread of flu.
7. Communicate desired behaviors to staff, students and visitors
For every health campaign, schools should have a system for disseminating information to increase awareness and compliance. Signage, announcements over PA systems and communication materials such as letters for parents and worksheets for students can serve as reminders to wash hands, get vaccinated and stay at home when sick.
8. Make cleaning a year-round priority
Although most cleaning will need to occur when school is in session and students are present, cleaning should not be forgotten during summer months and extended breaks. Often, office members are still working during these periods so cleaning staff should continue to disinfect desks, door handles, phones and other high-touch surfaces where individuals are working.
The original version of this article ran in the August issue of Executive Housekeeping Today.