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Keeping Covid in Check

Feb. 22, 2022
School and university cleaning personnel have had to step up their cleaning and disinfecting efforts to ward off Covid-19 and maintain safe and healthful facilities

The widespread availability of vaccines that ward off or lessen the effects of Covid-19 have cleared the path for a return to classrooms and in-person instruction in most school facilities. But the lingering dangers of the virus—most recently in the form of the Omicron variant—serve as a reminder that schools and universities must be vigilant in protecting students and staff from the illness.

That means that school custodians and maintenance workers must continue to clean and disinfect education facilities thoroughly to combat Covid-19 as well as other illnesses that can spread to school occupants.

Healthy Green Schools & Colleges, a partnership of the Healthy Schools Campaign and Green Seal, has developed guidelines to help those working in education institutions clean and disinfect facilities safely and effectively.

“A clear and thorough cleaning and disinfecting plan that prioritizes health and safety will help protect students, staff and custodial personnel while the pandemic persists,” the guide states.

The guide identifies five best practices for cleaning and disinfecting facilities to help prevent the spread of Covid-19.

“These five best practices were developed in partnership with recognized leaders in green cleaning and facilities management at schools and universities, and are based on the latest scientific understanding of the particular characteristics of the Covid-19 virus,” the guide says.

The recommended best practices:

Create a cleaning and disinfecting plan.

Routinely disinfect high-touch surfaces such as doorknobs, elevator buttons and light switches, the guide says. Close for as long as possible all areas possibly touched by a person suspected of infection. Then disinfect the area.

Consider removing hard-to-disinfect items such as area rugs, fabric-covered reception chairs, high-touch screens and remote controls.

Determine the frequency of cleaning and disinfection. Scheduling around an average number of unique touches may be a better approach than scheduling based on time alone.

Establish a policy to regularly verify cleaning and disinfecting efficacy, beyond a visual inspection.

Ensure that cleaning personnel are properly trained.

All cleaning personnel should be trained on safe and effective handling and use of products; use and maintenance of cleaning equipment; preventing ergonomic injuries; proper cleaning procedures; use of personal protective equipment, including how to avoid cross-contamination; and recognizing Covid-19 symptoms.

Typical training should cover proper product selection, safe handling of all cleaning and disinfecting products, effective cleaning procedures, and the use and maintenance of cleaning equipment.

“Custodial personnel who know how to correctly use products and equipment are more efficient and effective at cleaning and disinfecting, and also reduce product waste and chemical exposure,” the guide says.

Workers should be trained on when to wear personal protective equipment, what kind to wear, and how to put on and take off the equipment to avoid cross contamination.

“Training on safe and correct usage should be provided for any new devices or types of cleaning or disinfectant products,” the guide says. “The science surrounding the novel coronavirus continues to advance with new research, so ongoing trainings to keep staff updated on the best practices are recommended.”

Maintain sustainability and healthy indoor air.

Enhanced cleaning and disinfecting should not increase exposure to hazardous chemicals for custodians or building occupants. Choosing safer products, especially those that do not contain respiratory irritants, is critical for protecting those with asthma, the guide states.

“It may be tempting to choose conventional chemical cleaners, but the use of certified green cleaners, such as those certified by Green Seal, is more important than ever during this time of increased cleaning frequency,” the guide asserts. “Conventional chemical cleaners can contain hazardous ingredients that are harmful to health, especially with repeated exposure.”

Follow label instructions for application instructions. “Like the disinfectants themselves, some application methods are safer than others,” the guide says. “Some technologies being marketed for controlling Covid-19 unnecessarily increase hazardous exposures.”

Wiping a surface with a cloth, mop, or sponge soaked in disinfectant leads to the lowest inhalation exposure, the guide says. Using a trigger sprayer to spraying coarse droplets of disinfectant directly on the surface is another option but may lead to increased risk of inhalation.

Communicate the cleaning and disinfecting plan.

The guide recommends creating a communications plan that includes these elements: emergency communications procedures for suspected Covid-19 cases in a building; signs indicating whether spaces are closed for cleaning or safe to re-enter; informational materials for cleaning personnel to share with building occupants; and actions people can take, such as clearing workstations, to help cleaning personnel.

A school’s administration should confirm when each space in a school will be unoccupied and available for cleaning staff; a protocol should be in place if the space is found occupied. Clear signage and emails identifying spaces closed for disinfecting and spaces safe to reenter will reduce confusion.

Provide safer working conditions.

Schools can put additional precautions into place to create a safer work environment for students and teachers as well as cleaning personnel.

  • Provide adequate ventilation to help reduce transmission of Covid-19 as well as reduce buildup of indoor air pollutants that are released during cleaning and disinfecting.
  • Facilitate effective hand hygiene. Where water and soap are unavailable for handwashing, provide alcohol-based hand sanitizer (containing at least 60% ethanol or 70% isopropanol).
  • Remind people to avoid touching the eyes, nose, or mouth with unwashed hands.
  • Discuss the importance of paid sick leave with service provider partners. The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention has found that paid sick leave reduces viral transmission.
  • Provide space for cleaning personnel to store a change of clothes and a place to change out of uniforms or designated work clothes at the end of their shift. Facilitating this step will help reduce the risk of spreading the virus outside of the workplace.
  • Encourage cleaning service providers to use tools, equipment, and procedures to reduce ergonomic injuries.
  • Enhance signage procedures in school facilities. Establish signage in common areas that detail cleaning practices or a “last cleaned” time. Post signage in high-traffic areas, such as lobbies and dining areas, that encourages ways to stop the spread of germs, including how to properly wear a face covering and wash hands.

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