Preparing for Flu Season
Brush up on the best practices to ensure accuracy and prevent misunderstandings
- By Ben Oberle
- February 01, 2021
Educational facilities and their
leadership teams, along with
teachers, elected officials,
parents, and students themselves
know the stakes have
never been higher to determine what the
best plan of action might be to protect our
learners and navigate the COVID-19 pandemic.
While school has been in session for
a few months now, COVID-19 is not the only
risk for facility management teams to focus
on. While football games and the homecoming
dance may have looked different this fall,
one thing that stays consistent as the days get
darker and temperatures drop is the looming
cold and flu season to come.
According to a Centers for Disease and
Prevention study, up to 11 percent of the population
in the United States becomes infected
with the flu every year, on average. This year,
because of the COVID-19 pandemic, reducing
the spread of respiratory illnesses like the flu is more important than ever. While custodial
teams have been the first line of defense in
fighting the spread of coronavirus in our
schools, this flu season, they must continue to
be vigilant. For optimal results, study up on
the best practices listed below.
Brush Up on the Basics
The first and most important step to any flu
season cleaning plan is to diligently continue
with the daily routine of cleaning, disinfecting,
and sanitizing. As the seasons shift, it’s
the opportune time to audit your existing
cleaning plan to ensure you have the right
products, tools, and processes in place.
Brushing up on the basics can help too.
It is not uncommon to see the word cleaning
used when what is meant is sanitizing, or
to hear someone mistake disinfecting for
sterilizing. To ensure accuracy and prevent
potential misunderstandings, it’s important
to note the following:
1. Cleaning usually involves using soap and
water or physical techniques to remove
visible debris, dirt, and dust from surfaces.
It’s important to remember that cleaning
should occur before disinfecting or sanitizing
2. Sanitizing uses chemicals to reduce the
number of select bacteria on surfaces.
What sanitizers don’t do, however, is kill
viruses or spores like COVID-19. Sanitizing
is typically used on hot spots — such
as lockers and doorknobs — on an ongoing
basis as it requires a shorter dwell time
than disinfecting. Sanitizer label instructions
should be followed to comply with
the product requirements for proper solution
preparation, surface application,
pathogen efficacy, and contact time.
3. Disinfecting uses chemicals or other means
to kill germs on surfaces or objects. Disinfecting
typically requires a longer dwell time
than sanitizing and is not a replacement for cleaning dirty surfaces. Overall, this process kills harmful viruses and
bacteria on hard surfaces to help prevent the spread of infection.
Disinfectant label instructions should be followed to comply with the
requirements for proper solution preparation, surface application,
pathogen efficacy, and contact time. Disinfection is held to a higher
standard and requires a higher percentage of kill as compared to
sanitization requirements as set forth by the U.S. EPA. Disinfectants
require a minimum of a 6-log kill rate or 99.9999 percent reduction
in pathogens to further remove and mitigate exposure to harmful
microorganisms including viruses like COVID-19 and the flu.
Highlight the Hot Spots
During flu season, it’s important to identify your school’s “hot spots,”
or high-touch surfaces that can be prime areas for germs to live and
grow. Research shows the flu virus can live and potentially infect a
person for up to 48 hours after being spread to a surface, which
makes daily cleaning critical.
Identifying and treating some of the most potentially contaminated
areas in your facility is a critical step for stopping the spread of
the flu and other communicable diseases. As with the coronavirus,
typical hot spots for the flu include desks, doorknobs, computer keyboards,
paper towel dispensers, and faucets.
Find the Right Solution
Choosing the right product and using it correctly and safely is key, but
it can be difficult to know where to start when looking for cleaners,
sanitizers, and disinfectants. Recognizing that the product selection
process can be overwhelming, it’s important to familiarize yourself
with the options that best fit with your environment and cleaning goals.
To ensure the right product are being used, all cleaning staff needs
to read and understand their product’s EPA label to confirm that it is
proven effective against the flu virus on the surface they intend to use
it on. Also, critical details such as dwell time or odor should play a
role in the buying process, especially when chemicals will be used in
environments with young children.
Practice Sound Product Usage
Once the right product is selected, the next step is to ensure that it’s
being used correctly, paying special attention to mandatory dwell
times and dilution factors. Dwell time indicates the amount of time
disinfectants need to remain wet on surfaces to properly cover pathogens
and completely disinfect. Not abiding by the proper dwell time
not only puts students and staff at risk for exposure to the potentially
harmful pathogens that don’t get killed, but it also opens the school
up to liability issues for not disinfecting appropriately.
Chemical management is also key to accurate and effective cleaning.
Inaccurate dilution may lead to too much of a chemical in a solution,
which could damage surfaces and overexpose students and staff
to chemicals. Conversely, using too little product may not allow for
the appropriate chemical ratio needed for proper disinfection per the
product label, thus exposing students and staff to harmful, unmitigated
pathogens. Using a chemical management system can help simplify
the process by ensuring proper dilution every time.
Safety also needs to remain top of mind for custodial staff. Most
chemicals require the use of gloves and eye protection. For example,
gloves should always be worn when using bleach solutions to protect
your hands, and cleaners and disinfectants should never be mixed
unless a label indicates that it’s safe to do so. Additionally, it is important
to ensure any staff members who use cleaners and disinfectants
inside the classroom or out read all instruction labels for safe and
Spread Awareness, Not Germs
During the flu season, like with the pandemic, students and staff must
be educated on ways to avoid the flu virus. This can be accomplished by
continuing to promote the importance of hygienic practices, such as
wearing masks and proper hand-washing. Additional efforts that can
prove effective include displaying signs that promote flu safety throughout
your school, providing extra hand sanitizer in hallways and classrooms,
and encouraging students and staff to stay home when sick.
While your teams have been dedicated to the health and safety of
students, faculty, and staff throughout the pandemic, it is important
to stay just as diligent during flu season. By identifying hot spots for
the spread of microbes and mitigating them with the appropriate
products, a healthier learning environment can be achieved.
This article originally appeared in the January February 2021 issue of Campus Security & Life Safety.