Headshot Stephen Ashkin

Cleaning and the Coronavirus: 7 Key Questions

April 8, 2020
Seven questions will help make sure schools select and correctly use the right products so they are prepared for the day they can be reopened.

Cleaning and disinfection are top of mind and even a matter of life and death in some cases. While a vaccine for the coronavirus may be months away, the good news is that existing disinfectants with the appropriate procedures have proven effective. The following seven questions will help make sure the right products are being selected and correctly used correctly as schools are prepared for the day they can be reopened.

1. Are communications tools being considered?

Thinking ahead – schools and universities will reopen. One challenge to be anticipated is the community’s confidence that the facilities are safe to return to. So ask if communications can begin as early and frequently as possible. Track and report on the cleaning and disinfecting efforts to give the community, students and staff the confidence that these issues have been properly addressed.

2. Are the right disinfectants being used?

US EPA has established specific guidelines for disinfectants that are effective against the coronavirus (COVID-19). Thus, verify that the disinfectant meets EPA’s requirements for their “emerging pathogens” program. As a side note—many disinfectants meet these requirements, but this is the time to check. EPA maintains a list of approved products and it is anticipated that the agency will be adding more.

3. Are the disinfectants being properly diluted?

Most schools and universities use concentrated disinfectants along with dilution devices. Dilution devices can be affected by changes in water pressure, contaminants clogging the metering tips, and other issues. Thus, ask if the dilution devices are properly diluting the concentrate. As a side note—inexpensive test strips (just a penny or two each) are readily available for the various types of disinfectants and the devices should be re-calibrated if necessary.

4. Are the disinfectants being properly used?

Disinfectant labels explain the dwell/contact time the disinfectant must remain on a surface to inactivate the virus—often 10 minutes. Unfortunately, some custodians get in a hurry and use the disinfectant as a “spray and wipe” cleaner—drying the surface before the disinfectant can do its job. Thus, ask if the cleaning process is achieving the required dwell/contact time. If necessary, observe the cleaning process and address as necessary.

5. Are all ‘high-touch’ surfaces being disinfected?

The priority should be surfaces that are “high-touch” meaning that lots of kids and staff touch them. Custodians do a good job cleaning and disinfecting restrooms, but what about things like door handles, light switches, shared computer keyboards, shared A/V equipment, copiers, staff breakrooms, locker rooms, sports equipment and other high-touch devices and surfaces? Thus, ask if the high-touch surfaces and areas are being disinfected as additional cleaning and disinfecting may be necessary.

6. Is the frequency of disinfecting consistent with CDC recommendations?

Most schools and universities have established processes which include the frequency that specific areas are cleaned and disinfected. Thus, review CDC’s recommendations on cleaning/disinfection frequency and compare CDC’s recommendations to established requirements. Make adjustments as necessary.

7. Are all custodians properly trained and protected?

Custodial absences and vacancies may be high. Thus, make sure new custodians are appropriately trained (and reinforce the training with all custodians) to make sure everyone is following the proper protocols for cleaning and disinfection. This is also a time when personal protective equipment and procedures should be reviewed.

Since the situation is changing quickly, if any of the above questions differ from CDC, EPA, OSHA or state or local departments of health recommendations, please follow their recommendations. This is especially important in the event that a facility has a confirmed case of the virus or other situation in the community.        

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