Before custodial managers can identify proper techniques to cleaning schools, they first must develop a solid understanding of how germs are spread, says Dr. Philip Tierno Jr., director of Clinical Microbiology and Diagnostic Immunology at Tisch Hospital, and associate professor in the departments of Microbiology and Pathology at New York University Medical Center.

“While it’s important to clean anywhere where students pass and touch surfaces, those things are less important than understanding how germs are transmitted,” he says. “Eighty percent of all infections are transmitted by direct or indirect contact.”

Examples of direct exposure include things like sneezing, coughing, kissing, or a similar action that directly transmits one person’s germs onto another individual. Indirect contact occurs when someone comes into contact with a contaminated surface. 

Because germs are so easily spread, experts agree that infection control in the school system begins with hygiene, followed by cleaning practices, chemicals and equipment designed to clean for health.

“There needs to be some common-sense instruction that pays attention to hygiene,” says Tierno. “Children should be taught to wash their hands, use tissues, and if they need to cough or sneeze and they don’t have a tissue handy, to do so in the crux of their arm. They need to be taught to limit their contact with dirty banisters and other surfaces, and to use an alcoholic gel sanitizer if they cannot wash their hands.”

But children are children; their immune systems are poor and they don’t always follow these common-sense practices. This is where custodial professionals’ roles begin.

“They need to clean anywhere multiple students pass through and touch things,” says Tierno. “Those areas are what need the most attention.”

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