With the world entering the phase of recovery from COVID-19, most institutions are on the lookout for ways to maintain safe operations. For educational facilities, this means finding school disinfection solutions that are safe, efficient, and affordable. What follows is an overview of the popular options along with some recommendations on how to disinfect a school without disrupting the curriculum.
The Importance of School Disinfection Solutions
Due to the outburst of a highly contagious disease such as COVID-19, many institutions have switched to a virtual approach to reduce its spread. This was also the case for schools, with many education systems turning to distance learning. Unfortunately, this method is not without its weaknesses. The UNESCO lists numerous adverse effects of school closures, including:
- Interrupted learning
- Gaps in childcare
- High economic costs
- Rise in dropout rates
- Social isolation
As a result, healthcare authorities recommend viewing closures as last resort and instead focus on preventive measures that will make school attendance safe enough to restore normal operation of educational facilities.
Disinfection Process: Main Challenges
When it comes to curbing the pandemic, the most apparent aspect is the ability to stop the spread of the virus, either by killing the pathogens or by eliminating transmission routes through physical distancing. However, on an organizational scale, there are several additional factors that need to be considered. School disinfection solutions must be:
- Safe: The disinfectants need to be proven non-hazardous for use in a public setting.
- Cost-efficient: Budget considerations will limit the implementation on a large scale.
- Compliant: Disinfectants and technologies have to be approved for use by regulatory agencies.
- Simple: Overly complex and unintuitive solutions will increase costs for staff training.
- Time-efficient: The chosen method is expected to work under a high load without disrupting the facility’s operation.
Disinfection Solutions for School
Routine Cleaning Procedures
The words “cleaning” and “disinfection are often used interchangeably. In reality, they comprise two similar but distinct elements of the preventive measures against COVID-19. In simplest terms, disinfection describes processes that kill pathogens, whereas cleaning refers to physically removing impurities from surfaces.
Now, as mentioned above, SARS-CoV-2 can be contracted by touching a contaminated surface. So, while cleaning doesn’t eliminate the threat, it reduces the scope, making the environment safer for children. The main strength of cleaning is that it is already a part of the school’s maintenance procedures, so there’s no extra work or resources involved. All that is needed is checking the existing cleaning schedules for adherence to official guidelines and training the staff to do it right.
Of course, cleaning alone cannot ensure safety of the school environment, so it should be used in combination with disinfection. Disinfection procedures in schools may vary in complexity from using a school disinfectant during cleaning to smart solutions like a portable disinfection robot. So far, the optimal solution in this category is probably a disinfectant fogger machine – a handheld device that disperses the disinfectant onto surfaces in the form of dry fog. This method ensures even coverage and eradicates nearly all viruses and bacteria if a proper solution is selected.
However, the advantages of a disinfectant fogger for schools do not end there. Not only is it easier to set up and operate than a disinfection robot, it also uses the disinfection liquid much more efficiently than spraying or wiping. There are already cases of medium-scale adoption of these units in some U.S. school districts, so it’s quite possible that they will become more commonplace in the near future.
In addition to cleaning the premises, the creation of a safe environment presumes that pathogens are not introduced into it. The strongest line of defense in this regard is hand washing, which is widely agreed upon as the most effective measure against the touch-based transfer route. Unfortunately, other items, such as clothing and personal belongings, cannot be cleaned that easily.
One way to address this is the fogging technology mentioned above. However, instead of a portable unit, it was implemented as a disinfection gate – essentially a set of nozzles mounted inside a tunnel to sanitize everything that passes through it. The main advantage here is speed – the pass-through principle makes an average sanitation session just several seconds long. This is particularly important for busy areas like lobbies to ensure that the school’s schedule is not disrupted.
Of course, deploying such a solution on school premises should only be done once the staff understands how a disinfection tunnel works. Besides, the disinfectant used in these machines should be approved for use in school environments and pose no threat to students or staff. Fortunately, many such products have already undergone evaluation and are encouraged for use in schools by health authorities.
Temperature Measurement Systems
Cleaning and disinfection aside, the most important aspect of prevention is limiting the exposure by identifying people with symptoms. Again, in the school setting, the main limiting factor is the volume of traffic, so the equipment needs to be automated for maximum efficiency.
In this sense, the pass-through approach is perhaps the optimal solution. Recognizing this, some disinfection gate suppliers have developed a combined solution that incorporates both smart temperature measurement and a disinfection channel in one unit. This allows maintaining the physical distancing guidelines without introducing lengthy checks and makes disinfection passages some of the best disinfectant equipment for schools.
Despite considerable progress in overcoming the COVID-19 crisis, the battle is still far from over. Fortunately, today we are better equipped to deal with the threat. Now that we know that nationwide closures are not an option, school disinfection solutions will likely become a mainstay. While still feeling like an inconvenience, from the strategic perspective, they are a small price to pay for the social and cognitive development of an entire generation.