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Up close shot of school closed sign due to covid-19 case

School Cleaning and Reopening Due to a COVID-19 Closure

The COVID-19 pandemic has thrusted school districts into uncommon ground where they’re tasked with making decisions about when to close schools due to an outbreak and how to safely reopen. And as another spike in infections underway, and with the CDC providing indicators and thresholds for risk of introduction and transmission of COVID-19 in schools, schools continue to face tough decisions. In terms of reopening and keeping schools operational after an outbreak, schools should be establishing clearly defined cleaning protocols, products and best practices implemented for addressing COVID-19.

Mitigation Strategies to Protect School Building Occupants

The CDC offers considerations for mitigation strategies that K-12 school administrators can leverage to help protect students and staff from infectious disease spread. These considerations are intended to aid school administrators as they contemplate how to protect the health, safety, and wellbeing of not only their facility occupants, but of their larger communities as well. In general, the CDC’s considerations include:

  1. Promoting behaviors that reduce COVID-19’s spread in schools
  2. Maintaining healthy learning environments
  3. Maintaining healthy operations
  4. Preparing for when teachers, students and staff get sick

School Guidelines for When COVID-19 Infiltrates

Despite implementing the most well-executed mitigation strategies, the threat of positive COVID-19 cases continues. In this event, the CDC has provided explicit protocols on the next steps for schools to take:

  1. Advise staff and families of students sick with COVID-19 of home isolation criteria
  2. Make sure that staff and families know when they should stay home
  3. Isolate and transport students who develop symptoms while at school
  4. Clean and disinfect
  5. Notify health officials and close contacts

Schools must also decide if they need to implement short-term building closure procedures if/when an infected person has been on campus during their infectious period and has close contact with others. If a building or classroom closure is recommended by local health officials, next steps include thoroughly cleaning the areas where the infected person(s) spent significant time.

School Cleaning Considerations After a COVID-19 Outbreak

By now schools have developed a routine cleaning and disinfecting plan for public spaces to reducing their risk of exposure to COVID-19. However, once schools have an active outbreak, these cleaning and disinfecting procedures also become a critical part of reopening after a closure.  When developing a plan, schools should include the following considerations whether for routine or deep cleaning:

  • Determine what needs to be cleaned as some surfaces only require soap and water. School administrators and school cleaning staff should walk through the school together and decide which surfaces are touched frequently and should be the targeted for cleaning and disinfection. During this process, the importance of floor cleaning to combat the spread of germs should not be overlooked. While direct hand to floor contact is not necessarily frequent, floors can transfer germs thought indirect contact.
  • Determine what needs to be disinfected using a product from EPA’s list of approved products that are effective against COVID-19.
  • Consider the resources and commercial cleaning products needed, such as cleaning and disinfection products and appropriate PPE.

Once schools have this plan outlined, it’s time to implement it, whether on a routine school cleaning basis or preparing to reopen safely.

Implementing a School Cleaning Plan Before Reopening

Reopening schools requires custodial staff to implement recommended best practices for cleaning and disinfecting. Not only is this necessary to remove and kill germs, but parents, student and school staff feel more confident and secure knowing that the school’s facilities have been deep cleaned and disinfected. Follows are CDC guidelines:

#1 Clean visibly dirty surfaces with soap and water

Clean surfaces and objects using soap and water prior to disinfection. Always wear gloves appropriate for the chemicals being used for routine cleaning and disinfecting. Follow the directions on the disinfectant label for additional PPE needs. When you finish cleaning, remember to wash hands thoroughly with soap and water.

#2 Use the appropriate cleaning or disinfectant product

The virus that causes COVID-19 can be killed if the right products are used. The EPA has compiled a list of approved disinfectants that can be used against COVID-19, that when applied according to the manufacturer’s label, are effective for use against COVID-19. Follow the instructions on the label to ensure safe and effective use of the product. The label will also list precautions such as wearing gloves and making sure you have good ventilation during use of the product.

#3 Execute deep cleaning and disinfecting

Deep cleaning involves floor-to-ceiling cleaning and disinfecting, including surfaces that are frequently touched, such as door handles, desks, tables, touchscreens, light switches, and faucets. If someone becomes sick at school, cleaning staff should wait 24 hours before cleaning and disinfecting, or if 24 hours is not feasible, wait as long as possible. When cleaning and disinfecting begins, custodial staff should follow safe cleaning and disinfection procedures:

  • Put on personal protective equipment (rubber gloves, thick aprons, etc.). PPE should be worn when mixing, cleaning, and disinfecting for COVID-19-related disinfection only.
  • Mix any cleaning and disinfectant solutions in a well-ventilated area. When EPA-approved disinfectants are not available, alternative disinfectants can be used (for example, 1/3 cup of 5.25%–8.25% bleach added to 1 gallon of water, or 70% alcohol solutions). Bleach solutions will be effective for disinfection up to 24 hours.
  • Clean with detergent or soap and water to remove organic matter. Since disinfecting does not necessarily clean dirty surfaces or remove germs, effective school cleaning is a necessary step to further lower the risk of spreading infection.
  • Include all areas where building occupants are engaged, including restrooms, floors, windows and desktop/table cleaning.
  • After cleaning and disinfection, carefully remove personal protective equipment (PPE) and wash hands immediately.

Reopening with Confidence

With all of the uncertainty surrounding how the virus will impact the remainder of the school year, school districts can remain one step ahead by creating clear and effective mitigation strategies and cleaning protocols that can be quickly implemented when needed. Following these protocols in addition to using the right cleaning equipment can help schools prepare to reopen faster and safer.  To learn more about the campus cleaning tools we recommend, click here.

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