Disease and infection are constant threats, and K-12 schools are especially at risk. In serious cases, the first response has been to close the school for cleaning. Now, school officials are being urged to rethink cleaning strategies to reduce the risk of disease and focus on prevention rather than reaction.
In late 2007, there were a number of MRSA (Methicillin-resistant Staphylococcus aureus) outbreaks in school districts across the country, resulting in at least five student deaths. In 2009, the H1N1 pandemic posed an even greater threat to the health of schools and communities. And every year, seasonal flu hits, often resulting in school closures and worse.
The following recommendations are excerpted from a report, “Cleaning To Reduce The Risk Of H1N1 Flu Virus And Other Diseases,” published by the International Executive Housekeepers Association.
Cleaning For Health
We now know more about how disease spreads, how long germs live in various environments, and how cleaning procedures and tools can impact the healthy environment in a school. As a result, there is a fundamental shift from cleaning for appearance to cleaning for health.
Schools have a new responsibility to provide a healthy, germ‐free environment. This means moving away from the old models of cleaning and adapting new science‐based procedures, tools and products that are proven to reduce the spread of germs. Four key areas of the cleaning program are at issue: what to clean, who shares in the cleaning responsibility, when to clean and measurement.
What To Clean: Focus On The Right Areas
Traditionally, schools have cleaned with the primary purpose of creating a satisfying appearance—“It looks clean. It smells clean. Therefore, it must be clean.” Wrong! Shiny floors, for example, look clean and make a good impression. But, new, affordable testing equipment proves that what we once thought was clean (no visible soil, shiny, etc.), is more likely a haven for germs.
Schools and other facilities typically prioritized floors over common touch points, which are defined as a surface or object, which is touched or handled frequently by the student body and staff. The desktop is an example of a highly-contaminated surface that is often overlooked or minimized in a cleaning program. If not properly cleaned and sanitized, these touch points can serve to spread disease from one person to another. In fact, it is impossible to have a healthy school building if common touch points are not emphasized. The key to minimizing the spread of disease is to clean and sanitize these surfaces frequently.
Who Shares In The Cleaning Responsibility—A Team Effort
It is important to understand that maintaining a healthy school building is not just the responsibility of the custodial department. In fact, most custodial staffs are not sufficient to address the rigors of cleaning for health—especially in a disease outbreak. The most effective healthy school cleaning program will involve the cleaning staff, teaching staff, bus drivers, other school employees—and the students.
When To Clean
As you rethink cleaning, there are two recommended cleaning modes:
Measurement: The Role Of Testing In The New Way To Clean
Testing and measurement are at the core of any education. How do you know if the students are learning if you don’t test? How do you know where to focus and where to assign more resources if you don’t test? Yet, even with this ingrained focus on testing, most schools have no idea how they are performing in providing a healthy, clean environment for learning. Admittedly, until recently, there was not an effective and reliable method for testing cleanliness in the school environment. But now, you can easily and affordably measure Adenosine Triphosphate (ATP), the universal energy molecule found in all animal, plant, bacterial, yeast and mold cells.
After cleaning, all sources of ATP should be significantly reduced. Studies have shown however, that this is not always the case, especially when outdated tools like mops and towels are used. Too often, they simply spread germs and cross‐contaminate instead of cleaning. So although a surface may look clean, the reality may be far from the truth. Testing allows you to prove the effectiveness of your cleaning program.
Remember, Your First Line Of Defense Is Clean Hands
The highest recommendation from the CDC (Center for Disease Control) for fending off disease is a hand care program. Healthcare experts recommend scrubbing your hands vigorously for at least 15 seconds with soap and water—about as long as it takes to recite the alphabet. Students are subject to germs all day, and they are often sent to lunch without washing their hands. Furthermore, hand washing during restroom breaks simply can’t be monitored. Other times, when shared educational tools are handled frequently, teachers should instruct hand washing and sanitizing.
To download a copy of the entire publication, “Cleaning To Reduce The Risk Of H1N1 Flu Virus And Other Diseases,” visit www.ieha.org/documents/Protecting_against_H1N1_IEHA.pdf
[Reprinted with permission from Kaivac, Inc.]