Back to school. asian child girl wearing face mask with backpack going to school .Covid-19 coronavirus pandemic.New normal lifestyle.Education concept.

Contributed by Brian Sansoni, Senior Vice President of Communications, Outreach and Membership for the American Cleaning Institute

Many communities across the country have experienced eased COVID-19 restrictions. Meanwhile, business and facilities are re-opening and more people are gathering at in-person events. For many schools and workplaces, this also meant the highly anticipated return of students, teachers and staff.  

As winter settles in, so does cold and flu season. However, this year’s season has the potential to pack a bigger punch. In the worst-case scenario, experts estimate 300,000 to 400,000 extra hospitalizations this year — potentially due to an underexposed population in 2020, combined with fewer COVID-19 restrictions. For children who are back at school and might have less immunity to these illnesses compared to adults, the risk could be even greater.  

Each year, nearly 345 million school days are lost due to illness, which the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) estimates costs the U.S. economy roughly $120 billion in lost productivity. For those cleaning in schools, childcare facilities, and other areas where children gather, preparation for cold and flu season is a critical time to ensure a safe and clean space for students, teachers and families.  

A recent survey conducted by the American Cleaning Institute (ACI) found that three-quarters of American adults are likely to continue key hygiene behaviors in the coming months, like proper handwashing and disinfecting frequently touched surfaces. So, it is very important to keep heightened cleaning practices top of mind around young children.  

Here are some cleaning fundamentals to keep in mind:  

First Line Of Defense 

Frequent handwashing is one of the simplest ways to curb the spread of germs. In fact, a study conducted by Family Medicine in Detroit found children who washed their hands at least four times a day reduced the spread of gastrointestinal illness and related absences by more than 50 percent.   

Be sure that all restrooms are stocked with soap and paper towels or dryers. Consider providing hand sanitizer with at least 60 percent alcohol content as an extra hygiene tool, but make sure if sanitizer is to be used by very young children that they are supervised.  

Killing Germs 

Foodborne illness strains can live on surfaces for up to two hours, making disinfection a crucial step in the cleaning routine. 

While regular cleaning products do a good job of removing soil and germs, disinfectants or disinfectant cleaners are able to go one step further and kill many of the germs found on surfaces that cause illnesses. Here’s what to look for using a disinfectant: 

Products that say “disinfectant” on the label are required to meet government specifications. To be sure the product has met all government requirements for effectiveness, check for an EPA Registration Number on the label. 

There are different types of products to consider: 

  • Disinfectants: These products are designed to be effective against the germs indicated on their labels. Surfaces should be clean prior to disinfecting. 
  • Disinfectant cleaners: These dual-purpose products contain ingredients that help remove soil, as well as kill germs. 

Prioritize Frequently Touched Surfaces 

Germs can be transferred from inanimate surfaces to hands, and vice-versa. Some germs can live on dry surfaces (like toys) for several hours and moist surfaces (like bathroom sinks) for up to three days. Because cleaning teams have taken on more responsibilities to ensure schools and facilities are safe places to learn and play, it is important to prioritize frequently touched areas when cleaning and disinfecting. 

These key areas include: 

  • Desks, work tops and countertops 
  • Sink and toilet seat handles 
  • Computer keyboards 
  • Doorknobs and light switches 
  • Water fountain spigots 

Navigating The New Norm 

Now more than ever it is important to emphasize healthy cleaning habits. However, one person and team cannot tackle it alone. It will take everyone coming together to keep school communities safe and clean. 

That’s why the ACI worked with the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention to relaunch the Healthy Schools, Healthy People initiative. The program provides free guidance and resources nationwide for all members of school communities to reinforce hand hygiene and cleaning practices to prevent the spread of infectious disease and reduce sickness-related absenteeism. 

By keeping smart cleaning and hygiene practices front-and-center, custodial professionals can have a big impact on reducing student absenteeism and provide a more ideal — and healthy — learning environment.