Back to school will be a lot different this year

For some, the difference may be subtle: bottles of hand sanitizer and disinfecting wipes on the supplies list, making sure children have their lunch and a face mask before heading to the bus. For others, there may be intense anxiety about sending their kids back to school before they have been vaccinated for COVID-19. The concern about our children getting sick at school has never been higher – but the threat of illness-causing germs at school is in fact, old news.

Before COVID-19, back to school meant increased risk of exposure to illness-causing germs in school-aged children

When I was a child, back to school meant I was going to get sick — a lot. I caught strep throat, a common illness caused by the bacteria Streptococcus pyogenes, 7 or 8 times each year. I felt like I spent more time home sick from school than I did at school. To prevent this, my parents eventually had my tonsils removed, which I then proudly brought to school for show-and-tell. Turns out, I was not alone — there are an estimated several million cases of strep throat each year1. Streptococcus pyogenes can be spread by children who have no symptoms and can be acquired by touching contaminated droplets on surfaces. I often wonder — if my school had disinfected surfaces more frequently, could I have been at school more, and at home in pain less?

In addition to strep throat, there are many other illnesses that children contract during the school year. Each year, colds result in an average of 189 million missed school days2. Respiratory syncytial virus, or RSV, has made headlines recently for outbreaks in the southern U.S. this summer. RSV can be serious, and results in 58,000 hospitalizations of children under 5 each year3.   

Some pathogens can outlive the entire school year on surfaces

E. coli, a bacterium found in feces that causes gastrointestinal illnesses, can survive on surfaces for up to 300 days4. If a sick child brings it to school on the first day, E. coli can survive the entire school year on surfaces. One study found that up to 59% of desks in a school were contaminated with fecal matter5. Norovirus, another pathogen that causes gastrointestinal illness, is a common source of outbreaks in schools that may result in closures and can require costly cleaning measures.

Normally, hand hygiene would be an effective measure for preventing illnesses from pathogens picked up from surfaces. But kids being kids, have a hard time following and practicing hand hygiene, and they touch more surfaces than the average adult. In fact, 4 out of 5 children don’t wash their hands with soap after using the bathroom, and children touch and retouch up to 300 surfaces in 30 minutes6,7. As a result, teachers are exposed to 7 times more bacteria per square inch of surface than doctors5. That’s a lot of opportunities for pathogens to spread, that can cause illnesses and missed school days for students and teachers.  

Proper cleaning and disinfecting can help bring kids back to school safely — during the pandemic and beyond

Keeping kids healthy and in school ensures that they will all have the best opportunities to learn. Every child deserves to be healthy and safe in their school. We can help achieve this with a Smart Disinfection program. Smart Disinfection means focusing on high touch surfaces — desks, door handles, toys, light switches, and restrooms, prioritizing disinfection of higher risk areas and disinfecting correctly. By implementing Smart Disinfection, we can prevent our children from picking up germs that can make them sick, so that they can stay healthy, stay in school, and live well.

Learn more about Smart Disinfection

Learn more about Smart Disinfection and how to implement Smart Disinfecting practices in your school by following the links to our resources below:

For the latest information on COVID-19 and variants, visit our CloroxPro COVID-19 Hub.


1. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. Surveillance for Group A Strep Disease. (accessed July 19, 2021)
2. Fendrick MF et al. The Economic Burden of Non–Influenza Related Viral Respiratory Tract Infection in the United States. Arch Intern Med. 2003;163(4):487-494
3. Rha B, Curns AT, Lively JY, et al. Respiratory Syncytial Virus–Associated Hospitalizations Among Young Children: 2015–2016. Pediatrics. 2020;146(1): e20193611
4. Wißmann, J. E., et al. (2021). Persistence of pathogens on inanimate surfaces: A narrative review. Microorganisms, 9(2), 343.
5. Gerba, C. P. The Burden of Norovirus in Schools; Cengage Learning, 2016
6. Guinan, M. E.; McGuckin-Guinan, M.; Sevareid, A.; Philadelphia, M.; The Agnes Irwin School, F. Who Washes Hands after Using the Bathroom?
7. Alliance for Consumer Education. Cleaning Definitions – Disease Prevention | Alliance for Consumer Education (accessed Feb 14, 2019)