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:
- Watch our webinar on Smart Disinfection to learn more about how to adopt a cleaning and disinfecting protocol that is effective and efficient
- Download the K-12 environmental cleaning and disinfecting protocol guide to help you identify how to clean and disinfect your school
1. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. Surveillance for Group A Strep Disease. https://www.cdc.gov/groupastrep/surveillance.html (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 https://www.consumered.org/programs/health-wellbeing/cleaning-definitions (accessed Feb 14, 2019)
With a proud history of producing professional athletes like Peyton Manning and Justin Gatlin, the University of Tennessee (UT) strives for excellence both on and off the field. That same code of excellence extends to their high standards of cleanliness, not only within the dorms and academic buildings, but also within their athletic training and performance facilities. We spoke with Gordon Nelson Jr., Director of Facilities Services at the UT Knoxville, about how his team helps keep UT athletes at the top of their game through upholding cleaning and disinfection protocols.
A Track Record of Cleanliness
Gordon has been working within the Facilities Services team at various schools and universities since 1977, joining UT in 2011. Upon his arrival in Knoxville, Gordon made it his mission to support UT’s academic and athletic programs through his work within the Facilities Services team. Gordon and his team pair manual cleaning and disinfecting with the Clorox® Total 360® System to treat a variety of areas, from classrooms and stairwells to training spaces and locker rooms, to keep students and athletes healthy. In fact, Gordon has even connected with CloroxPro’s Research and Development Team to ensure that the Clorox® Total 360® System could be used to disinfect several non-traditional items – like football helmets. “In my opinion, our CloroxPro products are our best secret weapon in keeping our players healthy off the field so they’re ready for whatever challenges they face on the field,” said Gordon.
Pathogens vs. Athletic Facilities: A Common Rivalry
Since athletic facilities are high-touch, high traffic spaces, it is fairly common for pathogens to quickly spread in these environments. In fact, contact sport athletes that use these spaces are 10-15 times more likely to contract Methicillin-resistant Staphylococcus aureus (MRSA) than the general population1,and up to 31% of college athletes are colonized with this pathogen2. These facts show how important cleaning and disinfection of athletic facilities is to prevent the spread of germs that can cause illness.
COVID-19: The Unexpected Opponent
The COVID-19 pandemic caused a shift in the perception of the importance of the role Gordon and his team plays across the campus. While COVID-19 is not primarily spread via surfaces, the COVID-19 pandemic elevated awareness of the importance of cleaning and disinfecting to prevent the spread of germs that can cause illness across the campus. “From preparing the dorms for students this fall to disinfecting our sporting arenas after our spring sports games, we’re remaining diligent to make sure all areas are cleaned and disinfected properly to help prevent the spread of germs that can cause illness. In fact, throughout the COVID-19 pandemic, all 60 of our Facilities Services staff members have shared they feel more comfortable on our campus than anywhere else – even in their own homes.”
Coaching the Next Generation
One of the ways that UT’s disinfection protocols are set apart from other institutions is their third-party certification program with the International Sanitary Supply Association (ISSA). This 22-week training program has been a staple of the UT Facilities Services team for over eight years, addressing all areas of care including newer disinfection protocols, such as proper usage of the Clorox® Total 360® System. The program is available to staff members with varying levels of familiarity with the English language, and translators are available to ensure that the material is easily accessible for all.
In fact, Gordon shared that training his staff has been his number one priority and the most helpful way to maintain his athletic training facilities. “By training our staff about the differences between cleaning, disinfecting and sanitizing a space, we’ve been able to maximize our efforts and maintain a cleaner and safer environment across all of our facilities.”
The Disinfection Playbook
Gordon’s top piece of advice for other athletic training facility managers is to dig deep into the day-to-day disinfection protocols that are currently being implemented in the space. “When COVID-19 hit, I found that many university staff members weren’t even aware of our standard pre-pandemic cleaning and disinfecting protocols. Before any additional supplies were purchased, we gathered together and mapped out how our facilities were currently being cleaned. With this information in mind, we were able to determine which spaces needed additional disinfection and consulted with our experts on purchasing the right products for the right space.”
Once the spaces and products were accounted for, Gordon set to work training his staff on the latest CDC disinfection guidance – as well as proper use of different disinfection devices like the Clorox® Total 360® System. He set up a schedule to inspect a space, assign someone to attend to the space’s disinfection needs, then reinspect for any additional cleaning. Protocols and successfully cleaned spaces were recorded through the university’s online management portal – which is accessible to the entire Facilities Services team, as well as many staff members. This way, teachers and other staffers could see which areas had already been disinfected and which ones were still awaiting attention. Although these changes to UT’s cleaning and disinfection protocols were prompted by the COVID-19 pandemic, Gordon and his staff plan to continue updating their protocols on an ongoing basis. Gordon noted, while they were able to address the day-to-day effects of pathogens in athletic facilities pre-pandemic, this revamp will help them to get ahead of the next outbreak and upcoming cold and flu season.
Looking Ahead to Next Season
With states and universities reopening, Gordon and his team feel prepared to welcome students and community members back to campus. On May 14, UT held its first full-occupancy baseball game against Arkansas at Lindsey Nelson Stadium in Knoxville. The university’s 21,678 seat basketball arena and 102,455 seat football stadium are also planning to open over the summer for athletic practices and events – gearing up for the September 7 return to full capacity. Gordon and his team are ready to tackle the upcoming season with their Clorox® Total 360® System and smarter approach to cleaning and disinfecting protocols.
In my latest blog post, we discussed the law that guarantees your right to know what is in your cleaning and disinfecting products. In this post, you will learn how to understand the different ingredients in your products and what they are used for.
The active ingredient gives your product its antimicrobial power
Active ingredients, such as bleach or quaternary ammonium chlorides, are what gives cleaning and disinfectant products that “oomph” against bacteria and viruses. They are the do-ers and are responsible for exactly how a product works. Quaternary ammonium chlorides poke holes in bacterial membranes, bleach disintegrates membranes, and most active ingredients will degrade proteins. However, these ingredients are often not completely active on their own. They need helpers.
Take hydrogen peroxide for example. Hydrogen peroxide can be a very powerful disinfectant. However, a 3% hydrogen peroxide solution you get at the pharmacy will not be as good at killing microbes as a disinfectant product containing less than 1% hydrogen peroxide when mixed into an appropriate formulation. This is because in the presence of the right buffer, hydrogen peroxide can become a much better oxidizer, which will make it more effective at killing microbes. Similarly, bleach, or sodium hypochlorite, will be better at killing microbes at different pH conditions. At low pH, sodium hypochlorite becomes its acidic counterpart, hypochlorous acid. Hypochlorous acid is a much stronger antimicrobial, but it is only present at low pH. These differences can be attributed to the formulation of a product.
We expect more from our disinfecting products than efficacy
The overall formulation changes many things about a product with the same active ingredient. Besides the ability to kill microbes, a formulation can create products with a wide variety of special skills. Our disinfecting products often do double, or even triple duty.
We want our disinfectants to be:
- As good at cleaning dirt, grease, and grime as they are effective at killing pathogens
- Pleasant smelling to improve the aesthetics of a room after we have cleaned
- Safe to use on many different types of surfaces and to leave minimal or no residue
- Safe to use around children and pets
- Shelf stable so that we can use them week after week without losing any efficacy.
The product formulation can accomplish all these wishes. Fragrances are added to improve the aesthetics, surfactants and detergents break up dirt and grease and aid in spot cleaning, and additives may improve product stability and provide greater surface compatibility.
Appreciate the forms of your formulations!
In addition to the results we want from disinfectants, the forms they take are equally important. Formulations that are safe to use through trigger sprays may not be suitable for use through an electrostatic device, as they may cause excessive fragrance or irritation. Because of this, you might notice that disinfectant solutions designed to be used in electrostatics devices contain minimal ingredients and no fragrances. Always be sure to follow the directions for use on the product label and avoid using products in formats they are not approved for. This will ensure safety, and that you get the most out of each carefully constructed disinfectant formulation.
Learn about the functions of some common ingredients
See the table below to learn more about what common ingredients add to the product formulation.
|Antimicrobial (often the "active ingredient)||Sodium hypochlorite (Bleach)|
Dimethyl benzyl ammonium chloride (Quat)
|Kills microbes (e.g, bacteria, viruses, fungi)|
|Helps cover surfaces and deliver active ingredient to microbes|
|Surfactants/Detergents (the "cleaners")||Sodium lauryl sulfate|
Propylheptyl ether (PEG/PPG)
|Dissolves soils and helps physically remove microbes and dirt|
|Provides stability for the formula or helps protect surfaces from damage|
|Gives the product a pleasant smell or masks odors|
The next time you look at an ingredients list, notice all the components that work together for the final product from microbe-killing to aesthetics.
Over the past year, the use of cleaning and disinfection products has skyrocketed. Many people have become concerned about the ingredients in disinfectant products and whether it is safe to use them as frequently as we have been. First and foremost, disinfectants and sanitizers are regulated by the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) and are subjected to intense scrutiny by the agency as well as by state regulators. All EPA-registered disinfectant products are safe to use as directed. However, until recently, consumers were not assured of their right to know what is in these products, which may have prevented people from making their own informed choices.
What is the law that mandates disclosure of cleaning product ingredients?
SB258 is a piece of legislation from the State of California that impacts the cleaning and disinfection industry throughout the United States. SB258, also called the Cleaning Product Right to Know Act of 2017, requires manufacturers to disclose on a product label and on the product’s web site information regarding chemicals found in the product. Products listed as disinfectants, which are EPA-registered, are not required to print ingredients on the product label, however, they must comply with full online disclosure of ingredients.
Under this law, cleaners and EPA-registered disinfectants have been required to disclose ingredients online since January 1, 2020. Cleaners will also need to disclose ingredients on the product label by January 1, 2021, but EPA-registered disinfectants are exempt from the requirement to disclose on the product label. See the table below for a helpful summary.
|Product Type||Disclose Ingredients Online||Disclose Ingredients on Product Label|
|Cleaner||January 1, 2020||January 1, 2021|
|EPA-registered disinfectant||January 1, 2020||EXEMPT|
Companies are required to disclose more than just ingredients added to a product
Under SB258, manufacturers are required to disclose online:
- Intentionally added ingredients.
- Non-functional constituents greater than 0.01% (or 100 ppm). Non-functional constituents may include known natural breakdown products of intentionally added ingredients.
- Chemical abstracts service (CAS) numbers for specific ingredients. CAS numbers are used as chemical identifiers.
- Each ingredient’s function. For example, whether the ingredient is a solvent, surfactant, cleaning agent, antimicrobial agent, preservative, pH adjuster, or fragrance.
- Whether an ingredient is on one of 22 designated lists, which are lists of chemicals produced by a variety of state, federal, and international governments or agencies. Chemicals covered on these designated lists may include persistent bioaccumulatives, mutagens, carcinogens, reproductive toxicants, endocrine disruptors, neurotoxicants, respiratory sensitizers, toxic air contaminants, and water pollutants.
- Safety Data Sheets (SDS).
Where can I find ingredient information?
All ingredient disclosure information should be available on, or accessible from, a product website. The Clorox Company and several other companies use a third-party hosting site, called Smart Label (http://smartlabel.org/), to list ingredient disclosures for each of its products. Other companies may list their ingredients directly on the product website or on the SDS for the product.
Ingredient disclosure is law but, unfortunately, not all companies have made it easy to find this information. Look for labels like “ingredient disclosure,” “product details,” “ingredient list” and “designated lists,” or explore other tabs on a product website like “Safety Information.” If you are unable to find an ingredient disclosure for a product you are interested in, reach out to their customer service representatives to request the information.
Try for yourself!
1. SB-258 Cleaning Product Right to Know Act of 2017. (n.d.). Retrieved March 22, 2021, from https://leginfo.legislature.ca.gov/faces/billNavClient.xhtml?bill_id=201720180SB258
The COVID-19 pandemic has revealed a number of insights, including the many ways in which schools are important for the health of our children. With the closing of schools to address the spread of COVID-19 infection, a growing body of evidence and expert consensus agree that in-person schooling is critical to the health and development of children. On February 12, 2021, the CDC released updated guidance pushing for reopening schools during COVID-191-2.
What is the basis for the new recommendation that schools can reopen safely?
Many studies have been published recently showing that young children (particularly those in elementary school) are not strong drivers of community transmission of COVID-19. These data suggest that it is possible to reopen schools safely, as long certain mitigation measures are in place to protect teachers, students and school staff. Such measures include physical distancing, wearing masks, improving ventilation, and a focus on effective cleaning and disinfection practices. A recent article in the Journal of the American Medical Association (JAMA) summarized the literature on COVID-19 infection rates in schools3. The authors found that in several schools in the US, school attendance was not associated with increased risk of infection in the school or in the community. Furthermore, in schools with high mask adherence, COVID-19 incidence was lower than in the surrounding community.
What is the new guidance from the CDC?
The new guidance says that schools can reopen safely and provides different strategies to prevent COVID-19 outbreaks based on several factors, including the level of community transmission, the use of COVID-19 testing and screening, and the grade level of the students. For example, elementary schools can be open for some in-person schooling even in communities where COVID-19 transmission is high. By contrast, a high school in a community with moderate COVID-19 transmission may have less in-person schooling.
Overall, the major recommendations for operating schools safely include:
- Universal masking (all students, teachers, staff, and visitors must wear masks)
- Increasing handwashing and hand hygiene practices
- Implementing physical distancing (3 feet between people)
- Improving ventilation in buildings
- Daily cleaning and disinfecting and greater frequency of cleaning and disinfecting of high-touch surfaces
- Incorporating COVID-19 testing and screening
With the above mitigation measures in place, CDC does not recommend that vaccination of teachers, staff, and students be a requirement for reopening. However, CDC does recommend that teachers and staff be given priority for vaccination.
CDC recommends daily cleaning and disinfecting of schools and more frequent disinfecting of high-touch surfaces
As part of a layered mitigation strategy, the CDC has recommended daily cleaning and disinfecting of schools with more frequent disinfecting of high-touch surfaces (such as doorknobs, desk surfaces, sinks and faucets, shared materials, and playground equipment). End-of-day cleaning and disinfecting may still be managed by janitorial or custodial staff members; however, teachers and other school staff will likely need to clean and disinfect high-touch surfaces during the school day. Teachers and other staff should be provided with training, materials, and appropriate personal protective equipment to clean and disinfect safely. General guidance for safe cleaning and disinfecting include:
- Students should not be present during cleaning and disinfecting, and students should not be using cleaning products themselves.
- Choose products for disinfecting that are EPA-registered and on EPA List N. Products on List N have verified claims as a disinfectant and will kill SARS-CoV-2, the virus that causes COVID-19. According to the EPA, disinfectants on List N are also expected to kill all emerging variants of SARS-CoV-2.
- Ensure that staff follow the instructions for use on the product label. Some products may need to remain wet on a surface for up to 10 minutes to be effective.
- Never allow staff to mix cleaning products.
- For surfaces that contact food, have staff do a rinse with potable water after disinfecting if the product label states this is required.
- Staff should wear personal protective equipment as recommended on the product label. This may include gloves, a face mask, a respirator, or eye protection, depending on the type of product.
1. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. (2021). Operational strategy for k-12 schools through phased mitigation. Retrieved February 12, 2021, from https://www.cdc.gov/coronavirus/2019-ncov/community/schools-childcare/operation-strategy.html
2. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. (2021). Operating schools during covid-19: CDC'S CONSIDERATIONS. Retrieved February 12, 2021, from https://www.cdc.gov/coronavirus/2019-ncov/community/schools-childcare/schools.html
3. Honein, M. A., Barrios, L. C., & Brooks, J. T. (2021). Data and policy to guide opening schools safely to limit the spread of sars-cov-2 infection. JAMA. doi:10.1001/jama.2021.0374