Following the Biden Administration’s Executive Order on Supporting the Reopening and Continuing Operation of Schools and Early Childhood Education Providers, schools are actively implementing plans to help kids safely return to classrooms during the COVID-19 pandemic. Along with that, on March 21, 2021, the CDC updated its guidance for the cleaning and disinfecting of schools and public places.
“There is a lot of information for schools to sift through,” says Sean Mulgrew, owner of Commercial Building Maintenance, a Maryland-based commercial cleaning company. “One thing we know for sure, janitors are helping kids return to classrooms.”
When Are Surfaces Exposed to Coronavirus Safe to Touch?
According to the CDC, coronaviruses on surfaces and objects die naturally within hours to days. Warmer temperatures and exposure to sunlight reduce the time the virus survives on surfaces and objects.
That’s all well and good, but when are surfaces actually safe to touch? That depends on several factors, including:
- when coronavirus came in contact with the surface
- the type of surface (i.e. plastic, metal, fabric)
- surface temperature and sunlight
- exposure to other elements, such as cleaning and disinfecting products
Can Surfaces Be Tested for Coronavirus?
According to an article published in Smithsonian Magazine, testing for viral presence on surfaces is possible, but “far from simple.” Furthermore, surface testing is expensive, and it can take several to get test results. This will be impractical for schools when preparing for in-person learning.
The bottom line is, ensuring that school surfaces are free from coronavirus and other pathogens requires a thorough cleaning plan.
How Schools are Planning for COVID Cleaning?
The CDC recommends that each school take these macro-steps: develop a plan; implement the plan; maintain and revise the plan. Within each macro step, success depends on a myriad of micro-steps. And while each school will have its own needs, there is no need to reinvent the wheel when developing a COVID cleaning checklist for your school.
New York City has instituted a well-documented COVID-19 School Reopening Plan in which custodians will use CDC-approved electrostatic sprayers to sanitize school buildings on a nightly basis. Cleaning and disinfection protocols include all high touch surfaces such as desks & chairs, conference tables, drinking fountains, door handles and push plates, conference tables, light switches, restroom fixtures, partitions and hardware, buttons on hardware, buttons on vending machines, elevator buttons, gym padding, and physical therapy equipment.
And according to the American Academy of Pediatrics COVID-19 Guidance for Safe Schools, if playground equipment is being used, it should also be part of cleaning plans implemented by schools.
Will School Cleaning Ever Be the Same?
And while we hope students and teachers will quickly return to “normal” in-person learning, school cleaning procedures may never be the same. Even as cases of COVID-19 have leveled off and are now waning as a result of widespread vaccinations, it is important for schools to take another look at their school cleaning procedures to ensure that students and staff remain safe from COVID-19 and other pathogens.
Here are some of the major themes that have evolved as schools consider their school cleaning checklists and prepare for kids return to classrooms.
1. School Cleaning Frequency
Prior to the pandemic, it may have been enough to clean a school area once per day. We hope to return to that standard, but it’s not likely to be any time soon. Tracking the cleaning frequency of a space or object is particularly challenging because most cleaning staff are not on-site for the entire day. Therefore, you’ll need to develop a plan that specifies what surfaces require cleaning multiple times during the day. These items may include high-touch surfaces such as desks, chairs, lunchroom tables, gym equipment, and other surfaces where germs can live and and spread infection to others.
2. School Cleaning vs. Disinfecting
Until COVID-19, schools may not have differentiated between cleaning and disinfecting, but that distinction is more important than ever. The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) and other regulatory agencies are very clear about how the two practices work hand-in-hand. According to the CDC, disinfecting a surface without cleaning it first does not work. Therefore, it is important to treat cleaning and disinfecting as separate tasks on a janitorial inspection checklist.
3. Disinfectant Contact Time Requirements
Every disinfectant has a designated “contact time” from its manufacturer. Contact time is the length of time the disinfectant needs to be on the surface to do its job.
4. Cleaning Your Cleaning Equipment
To reduce cross-contamination, it’s important to clean and disinfect all your cleaning equipment frequently. This may include discarding equipment that cannot be cleaned and sanitized effectively. This may be one of the larger changes for your cleaning teams and one that is likely to increase cleaning costs as well.
5. School Handwashing and Sanitizer Stations
Handwashing has been one of the most effective measures to reduce the spread of coronavirus. As a result, your cleaning staff has probably been refilling soap dispensers and cleaning handwashing stations as part of their daily routine. Janitors and custodians can prevent soap and sanitizer runouts, by stocking extra supplies of each where teachers and staff can easily replace products when necessary. Additionally, handwashing stations should be cleaned multiple times a day and should also have signage for how to effectively wash hands to reduce the spreading of germs.
Teachers Will Play an Important Role in COVID Cleaning
As if they haven’t had to do enough to keep students healthy and engaged this past year, teachers will no doubt be asked to take part in the cleaning of high contact surfaces. Students will also be asked to contribute in age-appropriate ways. The CDC has prepared this simple checklist of items to be cleaned and disinfected.
What Should I Clean and Disinfect?
- Door handles and knobs
- Desks and chairs
- Cabinets, lockers, and bookshelves
- Shared computer keyboards and mice
- Trash bins
- Light switches
- Pencil sharpener handles
- Sinks and surrounding areas
- Whiteboards or chalkboards
- Shared electronics such as printers
When Should I Clean and Disinfect?
Frequently touched surfaces should be cleaned and disinfected at least daily or between use by different students. Limit the use of shared objects when possible, or clean and disinfect between use. Options for cleaning and disinfection include:
- In the morning before students arrive
- Between classes (if students change rooms and while students are not present)
- Between the use of shared surfaces or objects
- Before and after food service
- Before students return from recess or breaks
- After students leave for the day
Commercial Business Maintenance operates throughout Maryland, Virginia, and DC and specializes in auto dealership cleaning as well as other commercial property maintenance. Let us help you set your auto dealership or business apart from the others with superior commercial and retail cleaning service. Contact us today for a free estimate.
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