Student Well-Being What the Research Says

How Much COVID-19 Cleaning in Schools Is Too Much?

By Sarah D. Sparks — March 02, 2021 3 min read
Amanda Pease cleans a desk in a classroom during a media tour at Dorothy Eisenberg Elementary School, Thursday, Feb. 25, 2021, in Las Vegas. On Monday, Pre-K to third graders will be starting a two-days-per-week "hybrid" in-person schedule in the Clark County School District. Other grades will be phased in before April 6.

The pandemic has launched almost constant cleaning and disinfecting in schools. But as experts learn more about how the virus spreads, some research raises questions about the right amount of cleaning, and how sanitation protocols can support other COVID-19 prevention measures in the school.

Cleaning and disinfecting are core strategies to control the spread of the coronavirus, according to the consensus from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, the World Health Organization, and others. And they have been among the most universally adopted among schools reopening this year.

A nationally representative survey of educators conducted in February by the EdWeek Research Center found 91 percent report more-intensive cleaning protocols, and 85 percent say that disinfectant wipes are now widely available in classrooms, an 8 percentage point increase compared to this June.

While cleaning uses soap or detergent to remove surface germs, disinfecting uses chemicals to kill or inactivate bacteria and viruses like COVID-19 after a surface has been cleaned. According to the CDC and other guidance, it’s most effective for schools to do both in order to reduce the spread of COVID, particularly on frequently used surfaces like door handles, light switches, and shared electronics such as keyboards, mice, or printers.

Other countries have varied significantly in both how often they clean and disinfect schools and how closely they involve teachers and students in doing so. While schools across WHO countries encourage wiping down frequently used surfaces every two hours, Denmark requires that any early-childhood materials be cleaned twice a day and any keyboards cleaned after each use.

Studies of school-based coronavirus cases have repeatedly found regular cleaning—as part of a broader mitigation plan including hand-washing, ventilation, social distancing, and contact tracing—can allow schools to reopen in-person classes safely even when community infection rates are high. Moreover, studies conducted prior to the pandemic have suggested that maintaining cleaner campuses can reduce student absenteeism, particularly for students with chronic illnesses such as asthma.

Avoid overdoing cleaning

Surfaces can become contaminated through droplets spread when a person coughs, sneezes, or even talks loudly. However, studies more recently have suggested COVID-19 is spread more frequently through aerosolized virus particles that are inhaled than through touch contamination. Researchers in the journal Science suggested improving indoor air quality and ventilation in schools may be more important than daily, in-depth surface cleaning to keeping schools virus free.

One December study in the Journal of Allergy and Clinical Immunology in Practice finds that the pandemic has led to a significant rise in the use of cleaning products and worsening asthma attacks, particularly with strong bleach and other disinfectant solutions. (To be effective, the CDC recommends a bleach solution be 5 percent to 9 percent sodium hypochlorite.)

While the December study looked at home disinfection rather than schools, the results suggest school leaders show caution if they ask teachers or students to repeatedly clean desks and other classroom surfaces each day, particularly if they use bleach or other disinfectant wipes. (Separate studies have found higher asthma risk with bleach use occurring four to seven times a week.)

However, a separate study in the journal the Lancet suggests students with asthma may have lower symptoms in schools than at home during the pandemic, because home cleaning is likely taking place in smaller and less well-ventilated areas.

“Improving classroom ventilation will be important overall,” as part of both cleaning and overall COVID-19 mitigation strategies, the authors noted, “but there is a fine balance between opening windows and maintaining thermal comfort, and care must be taken to reduce exposure” to outside allergies and pollution, which can also worsen asthma..

Related Tags:

Events

This content is provided by our sponsor. It is not written by and does not necessarily reflect the views of Education Week's editorial staff.
Sponsor
Student Well-Being Webinar
Measuring & Supporting Student Well-Being: A Researcher and District Leader Roundtable
Students’ social-emotional well-being matters. The positive and negative emotions students feel are essential characteristics of their psychology, indicators of their well-being, and mediators of their success in school and life. Supportive relationships with peers, school
Content provided by Panorama Education
This content is provided by our sponsor. It is not written by and does not necessarily reflect the views of Education Week's editorial staff.
Sponsor
School & District Management Webinar
Making Digital Literacy a Priority: An Administrator’s Perspective
Join us as we delve into the efforts of our panelists and their initiatives to make digital skills a “must have” for their district. We’ll discuss with district leadership how they have kept digital literacy
Content provided by Learning.com
This content is provided by our sponsor. It is not written by and does not necessarily reflect the views of Education Week's editorial staff.
Sponsor
School & District Management Webinar
How Schools Can Implement Safe In-Person Learning
In order for in-person schooling to resume, it will be necessary to instill a sense of confidence that it is safe to return. BD is hosting a virtual panel discussing the benefits of asymptomatic screening
Content provided by BD

EdWeek Top School Jobs

Teacher Jobs
Search over ten thousand teaching jobs nationwide — elementary, middle, high school and more.
View Jobs
Principal Jobs
Find hundreds of jobs for principals, assistant principals, and other school leadership roles.
View Jobs
Administrator Jobs
Over a thousand district-level jobs: superintendents, directors, more.
View Jobs
Support Staff Jobs
Search thousands of jobs, from paraprofessionals to counselors and more.
View Jobs

Read Next

This content is provided by our sponsor. It is not written by and does not necessarily reflect the views of Education Week's editorial staff.
Sponsor
Student Well-Being Quiz
Quiz Yourself: How Much Do You Know About Using The American Rescue Plan Act to Support Hybrid-Learning?
Quiz Yourself: How well do you know the American Rescue Plan?
Content provided by ConexED Logo
Student Well-Being Opinion Why Venting When You Have Problems Feels Good—and Why It Doesn’t Work
When you keep talking about what’s bothering you, it keeps the negative emotions alive. Here’s what research says to do instead.
Ethan Kross
2 min read
Images shows a stylized artistic landscape with soothing colors.
Getty
Student Well-Being What the Research Says How Does Sending a Child to School Change a Family's Risk of COVID-19?
In-person schooling that doesn't lead to outbreaks can still raise the risk of kids bringing the virus home, especially in poor families.
3 min read
On Sept. 24, 2020, distance learners are seen on a laptop held by teacher Kristen Giuliano who assists student Jane Wood, 11, in a seventh-grade social studies class at Dodd Middle School in Cheshire, Conn. A new study finds a family's risk of infection rose if they had a school-age student when schools re-started in person instruction.
Students, assisted by their teacher Kristen Giuliano, work remotely and in-person in a hybrid classroom earlier this year at Dodd Middle School in Cheshire, Conn.
Dave Zajac/Record-Journal via AP
Student Well-Being Teens Are Starting to Get Vaccinated. That's a Big Deal for Schools
Educators are now encouraging their oldest students to get the vaccine, with the hope that it will help normalize school operations.
10 min read
17-year-old cancer survivor Jordan Loughan receives a Pfizer vaccination at Mercedes-Benz Stadium in Atlanta on Tuesday, March 23, 2021.
Seventeen-year-old cancer survivor Jordan Loughan receives a Pfizer vaccination for COVID-19 in Atlanta on March 23.
Curtis Compton/Atlanta Journal-Constitution via AP