As the number of new infections of coronavirus starts to decline in many areas, some states and cities are starting to reopen progressively in an effort to return to normal. But after how big the coronavirus became, and how fast it spread, the return will be to a new normal. Every aspect of this approach needs to be strategic in order to avoid a second wave of an outbreak.
As many businesses are anxious to reopen, more adults will be returning to work. But what about the children and students? Along with outlining a plan to reopen their economy, many governments are also planning their approach to reopening schools.
The thought of kids returning to class may bring mixed emotions to parents. On the one hand, many parents have had to homeschool their children, which usually meant resorting to a Google search to figure out how to calculate what “X” equals or how to find the area of a circle. Many parents have expressed how the situation has built a greater appreciation for teachers and educators and the work they do each day for students.
On the other hand though, considering how quickly things changed over the past few months, the thought of sending children back to school may be a great source of anxiety.
Will schools be dangerous for our kids?
Any parent would say that the health of their child is one of the most important things to them. This pandemic caused us all to give increased thought to how clean and safe our surroundings are. The virus can be transferred so easily to another person. Quite a few outbreaks took place in long-term care and retirement homes where all of the residents are in close association.
Schools present a similar environment with teachers and hundreds of students all being under the same roof. The only difference schools have from nursing homes is that all the individuals attending the same facility during the day return to their homes and families in the evening. Thus widening the potential number of people exposed if a student or staff member were to infect others at their facility.
So how can children return to school safely without the worry of getting sick each day? What specific areas of schools need to be given more attention when it comes to sanitization?
Even before we were aware of the term coronavirus, classrooms were already a hotspot for transmitting sicknesses, usually like the common cold or flu. Young children especially seem to be easy transmitters of viruses, bringing sicknesses they picked up at school back home with them.
So a few questions arise:
- How can we still care for the educational needs of students while ensuring their safety?
- What specifically can be done at preschools, elementary and high schools along with Colleges and Universities?
- What about the areas that are frequently touched? How can these areas be kept sanitized throughout the day?
- And what about the perceived epicenter of all germs, the washroom. How can they be sanitized at educational facilities?
We will answer these questions and more in this article.
The main danger zones
We probably recall when we were in school seeing the school custodian pass by our classroom door or him saying hello to us as he walked past us in the hallways. So we know custodians were already busy during the day, but most of their daytime duties consisted of keeping the washrooms clean and caring for any emergency cleanups.
Usually, classrooms in schools are cleaned only at the end of the day. However, considering how contagious the coronavirus is, surfaces that are frequently touched need to be cleaned regularly throughout the day to help protect both students and teachers. These would include regularly disinfecting:
- all door knobs, handles and push plates
- light switches
- supply drawers and desks
Washrooms will need extra attention to keep them clean. At least with washrooms, we are already well aware of what areas need attention. Basically every surface. But to help with sanitization, they should be cleaned more frequently throughout the day.
- all handles and locks
- paper dispensers, soap dispensers
- toilets and urinals
Aside from a more thorough cleaning regimen, what other practical measures should be in place at educational facilities?
Preschools and daycares
Let’s face it, younger children who attend preschool may not fully grasp all the principles behind good hygiene. A lot of the responsibility falls on the educators. So what can they do to help make preschools safe for kids?
Screening before entry
The first step in prevention is screening prior to entry into the facility. Does the child have any symptoms? Has anyone in the child’s home recently been sick with the virus? These are questions that daycare and preschool staff should be asking the parents. The same principles for screening would be in place for any staff that enters the facility, including teachers or other support workers.
Limiting the number of people
Screening does not guarantee that no germs will enter into the facility. Some children have been asymptomatic with Covid-19, so while they may appear healthy they may actually be carrying the virus and can pass it on to others, whether it be children or staff. Limiting the number of children at each preschool will help lower the probability of community spread from taking place within the facility. A designated area outside of the facility should be setup up for parents to pick up and drop off the children instead of entering the facility.
Masks and more
All staff workers should wear masks for the time being to protect themselves and others. Teachers will need to monitor the condition of their students during the day. Do any show signs of sickness, like coughs, fevers, runny nose, sore throats, and so on? Arrangements should be made for any child who falls ill while at school to be picked up and taken home by a parent or guardian.
If this is not possible, the ill child should be removed from having association with other children and monitored until they are able to be picked up. If any child complains that they aren’t feeling well, this should be taken seriously. Educators should monitor each child to ensure that they are regularly washing their hands especially after recess and before any snacks and lunchtime.
As much as it’s contrary to our human nature, the concept of social distancing needs to continue to be practiced at least for now. Any areas that the children will be in should be regularly sanitized throughout the day, perhaps when they are occupied with a different activity. All supplies the kids handle should be cleaned before and after they are used. And although we want our young children to learn the valuable lesson of sharing, perhaps it would be best not to share their Crayons or markers with each other under the current circumstances.
Elementary and high schools
Many of the same principles should apply for returning to elementary and high schools. Elementary schools consist of some younger children who may need some extra guidance on good hygiene, whereas hopefully, most high school students will know enough to recognize the importance of washing their hands.
New preventative measures
Again, the first preventative step would be screening before entering the facility, both staff and students. Hand sanitizer should be made available throughout the building and in each classroom. Students should have a seat in between them in each classroom to prevent close contact. If classes rotate, each classroom should be sanitized in between rotations before another group of students use the same classroom.
Some specific classes may lend themselves to be more dangerous right after a pandemic than others. We may remember back to when we were in music class, for example, learning how to play some instruments where the user would empty the spit valve on the floor, or having to use a mouthpiece that we were told was sanitized after the last person used it. After going through a pandemic we may look back at some of these things and wonder, “What were we thinking?”
Gym class (or PE) is another one. Would students think it’s a good idea to play close contact sports after being told to keep a 6-foot distance from everyone for the past few months? There are no doubt many other activities that could be carried out safely and still provide a great deal of physical activity. It might be worth mentioning that some students, while willing to return to class, may not be comfortable with certain activities, like certain sports during gym, that before coronavirus was considered normal.
Earlier we discussed the importance of frequently touched surfaces. What usually lines the hallways of most high schools? Lockers. On average, students will access their locker nearly a dozen times each day. Fortunately, it is usually the same person touching each individual lock.
However, what material are most locks made of? Metal.
Researchers found that the coronavirus can last on metal surfaces for up to five days. That means if an infected individual touched their metal lock on Monday, the virus could still be there and active on Friday. This shows the importance of regularly sanitizing all the locks in the school which is no small task.
What hygiene challenges are there for post-secondary educational facilities?
Colleges and universities
As the number of infections of COVID-19 increased, it was realized that all age groups were at risk. So the sanitation of post-secondary educations facilities is just as important as preschools and K-12 schools. True, young adults are more educated when it comes to self-sanitization, but when it comes to community spread of a potentially deadly virus, it only takes one person. Or several spring breakers…
So then, similar principles as discussed above will apply in these environments as well. Any entering the facilities should be pre-screened. Commonly touched surfaces and classrooms should be sanitized very regularly. Washrooms should be maintained hourly during the day. Off-campus notices should be posted, highlighting the importance of taking the necessary precautions to protect one’s health.
Rotating online classes
A record number of people in the world have worked from home over the past few months. All of this helped to prevent further spread. The same fact can be true going forward. So the fewer people in a facility at one time, the lower the chance of the virus being spread. Classes at universities and colleges could be staggered to limit how many people need to be inside the building at one time. This could also help limit the scope of areas that need to be sanitized each day.
The self-isolation experience during the pandemic showed how easy it is to be connected remotely. Students can still collaborate with others online when asked to work on projects together. Could most lectures also be made available digitally? That way, students only need to attend in person on specific occasions, like for exams.
Keeping areas clean. How?
Before the pandemic caught the world off guard, sanitizing was most likely already something that was regularly being done at educational facilities. Considering what we have discussed in this article shows how we need to be even more conscious of it as communities endeavor to come out of isolation and have students head back to class.
Knowing what to do is one thing. Following through is really the key. So what should be used to sanitize areas and items and educational facilities? As we can see, in order for students and teachers to have a safe return to school, many areas and items need to be sanitized regularly.
Of course, there are many options available when it comes to sanitizing and some work better than others. But how can we meet the needs of this higher demand of sanitization?
Fast, chemical-free sanitizing
Many classrooms – whether in preschool or elementary schools – have many toys along with crafts, books, writing utensils, and so on. Imagine the time it would take for an individual to sanitize each item one at a time. Never mind the number of chemicals needed to do so. And not necessarily something you want to use on a toy that can end up in a toddler’s mouth.
Enter the Fresh Gear RSS, or Rapid Sanitizing System. This patented machine uses all-natural ozone gas, so it is completely chemical-free. Numerous items can be put in the machine all at once on the removable stainless steel shelves and can be sanitized together in a manner of minutes.
Imagine sanitizing 30 toys, 20 notebooks, and several pairs of gloves and masks in 30 minutes, with the push of a button. Think of the time this machine would save teachers in order to keep their classrooms and supplies safe.
Thorough and effective
Sanitizing done by people always carries a margin for human error. We’ve all heard it before: “You missed a spot.” In reality, though, it’s true. Despite our best efforts, we can’t be certain we’ve covered every square inch.
However, using ozone with the Fresh Gear RSS, all visible surfaces are sanitized. Ozone kills bacteria and viruses on contact, unlike chemicals that need to sit on a surface for a period of time. A gym teacher could put in his basketballs, hockey sticks, badminton rackets and other sports equipment in the machine and after a short 30-40 minute cycle, they would be completely disinfected.
Computer keyboards are a culprit for lingering germs, and it can be quite tedious to make sure every key is wiped clean by hand. Using the Fresh Gear RSS though, even the tiny keys and crevices would receive the ozone treatment. It’s not hard to see how the thoroughness and versatility of this technology provides many advantages in the battle against harmful viruses at educational facilities.
The unprecedented experience over the past few months has emphasized the importance of protecting our health by keeping our environment around us clean. This is especially important for the environment that our future generations spend most of their time in. With the right measures in place, our kids can safely head back to class after coronavirus.