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How can we reduce surface related transmission of COVID-19 in schools?
How can we reduce surface related transmission of COVID-19 in schools?
Julie Watson avatar
Written by Julie Watson
Updated over a week ago

Though the primary route of COVID-19 transmission is via direct contact with an infected patient, individuals can also be indirectly infected via contact with surfaces in the immediate environment or with objects used by an infected person.

Reducing contact transmission (such as on surfaces) requires:

A. Extensive cleaning and maintenance of facilities

B. Reducing high-touch surfaces

A. Extensive cleaning and maintenance of facilities

Surfaces and laundry (when applicable) in all environments where students, teachers and non-teaching staff spend time (classroom, dining areas, playrooms, staff rooms, dormitories, laboratories) should be cleaned and disinfected at least once a day. This is particularly important for water and sanitation facilities and other surfaces that are touched by many people (high-touch surfaces), such as tap handles, railings, lunch tables, sports equipment, door and window handles, toys, and teaching and learning aids.

The World Health Organisation recommends that surfaces are always cleaned with soap and water or a detergent to remove organic matter first, followed by disinfection. In school settings, sodium hypochlorite (bleach) may be used at a recommended concentration of 0.1%. Alternatively alcohol with 70%-90% concentration may be used for surface disinfection, an option which may be more suitable for cleaning small objects. Where disinfectants are being prepared and used, the minimum recommended personal protective equipment (PPE) is rubber gloves, impermeable aprons and closed shoes. For more detailed information on disinfection of surfaces and laundry see our resource entitled ‘Preventing COVID-19 Transmission via Surfaces’.

Trash should be removed daily and safely disposed, and airflow and ventilation should be maximised where climate allows, for example by opening windows or using air conditioning where available.

An operation and maintenance routine should be established to ensure cleanliness and functionality of facilities and provision of consumables. If soap is available and facilities are functional and clean, teachers’ messages around hygiene may be more credibly conveyed. Cleaning items such as commercial detergents, mops, buckets, and basic PPE (to the extent possible) should be provided for use by cleaning staff in schools. Schools should regularly assess their WASH environment and endeavour to make improvements in manageable steps. The complete UNICEF guidelines for water, sanitation and hygiene (WASH) in schools can be found here.

Various members of the school community – including management committees, teachers, janitors, cleaning staff, school health staff, and students – can help in efforts to improve a school’s WASH environment. Key roles should be identified and assigned. The WHO offers advice on assigning roles to members of the school community (Annex 1).

A school’s community does not stop at the school itself. Parents, technical experts and community leaders can help identify problems and develop solutions, as well as provide additional funding and support implementation. Tips for engaging the wider community can also be found in the WHO guide mentioned above. Leaders of the school management committee should take overall responsibility for ensuring members of the school community play their role accordingly. Available evidence supports this whole-community approach to improving and maintaining facilities: a study in Kenya showed that WASH conditions can be improved within a school’s existing administrative structure when given a budget for purchasing WASH-related items; other studies have found that upfront local involvement, community financial support, a local champion, a maintenance plan, school management committee involvement, and giving students responsibility for monitoring and cleaning school latrines are all key factors on the pathway to well-managed school WASH facilities.

B. Reducing high-touch surfaces

Where possible, school administration may consider removing or modifying high-touch surfaces, such as communal furniture, toys, and sports equipment. This may also include propping open doors to minimise contact with door handles. The remaining high-touch surfaces should be identified for priority disinfection and cleaned at least once daily.

Want to know more about COVID-19 control strategies for open schools:

Editor Notes:

Written by: Julie Watson

Reviewed by: Kondwani Chidziwisano, Matthew Freeman, Linda Engel, Mohini Venkatesh, WinS Network, Sian White, Robert Dreibelbis

Last updated: 26.5.2020

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