Chronic absenteeism costs student progress, adds to teacher workload, and impacts school budgets. Not every cause of absenteeism has an easy answer, but there is one big section of the pie chart that we can do something about. That’s absences due to sickness.

It’s clear that disinfection response can reduce absences after an outbreak. If norovirus invades a school, targeted protocols can stop the cycle of infection. But that’s reactive. A proactive approach that shuts down the pathways for virus and bacteria transmission in a school can stop outbreaks before they happen and bring down the number of days lost to cold and flu.

How would that work? Beyond the best practices for standard cleaning, a three-pronged approach should look at the surfaces we touch, the air we breathe, and of course, our hands. That means special protocols for surfaces that harbor infectious agents (desks and other common touchpoints) and methods that interrupt vectors for transmission (student’s hands and the air they share).

The Center for Disease Control will thank us if we start with handwashing. The CDC says handwashing cuts respiratory illness by 16-21%. Research shows 51% less student absenteeism is possible with student access to disinfecting soap and hand sanitizer. That makes prong one of our approach supporting student hand hygiene. Resources like hand sanitizer need to stay available and placed properly so they’re used.

Prong two is moving up from reactive surface sanitation to preventive. Rhinovirus (the most common cause of the common cold) can live on surfaces for seven days, but non-porous surfaces can reach 100% sanitation in a few minutes using electrostatic disinfection. That makes it possible to efficiently add proactive infection-blocking to your cleaning routine.

Prong three is controlling the air. Proper humidity is key to reducing the transmission of cold and flu (if it’s too dry, airborne virus particles can travel much farther). There’s another factor to air quality control, and that’s indoor pollutants and irritants. One of the leading causes of absenteeism is asthma. Properly maintained filters keep particles out of the air, but there are newer technologies, too, such as applications for windows that harness the power of sunlight to destroy volatile organic compounds (VOCs) in the air.

Gordon Buntrock is National Director of Service Delivery for education services at ABM and has more than 40 years of experience in the facility services industry. He joined ABM in July 2016.