Responding to concerns about drug-resistant staph infections, schools nationwide have tapped into a network of professional cleaning services that come armed with heavy equipment, antibacterial foggers, and industrial-strength disinfectants to help kill the harmful germs—and quell the fears of the public.
Recently reported cases of methicillin-resistant Staphylococcus aureus, or MRSA, have even led to some temporary school shutdowns for cleaning, although health officials say that infections are prevented primarily through good personal hygiene practices rather than aggressive sanitizing of facilities. (“Infections Put Administrators to the Test,” Nov. 7, 2007.)
But cleaning is not smoke and mirrors, asserts Howard J. Cohen, the president of CleanInnovations, based in Columbus, Ohio. His company provides cleaning supplies to schools and leases equipment they may not have on hand.
“Cleaning [facilities] with proper procedures and training and tools is a key component” in preventing the spread of infection, including MRSA, he said. “It is critical to providing a clean, sanitary system.”
Mr. Cohen works with schools to either train in-house custodial workers to use his equipment or to establish a schedule for his crew to come in and disinfect.
Cleaning costs usually range from about $2.50 to $3 per square foot, and the typical school requests about 7,000 square feet of cleaning, said Mr. Cohen—although a large job could require as much as 20,000 square feet of cleaning.
“We’re not a threat to school staff; we’re just a complement to any school system that wants an outside cleaning company to do project work,” he said.
Federal health officials at the Atlanta-based Centers for Disease Control and Prevention generally support efforts to sanitize school facilities, even if it’s not usually necessary to close schools for disinfection.
“From a purely scientific standpoint, the health department officials say that routine cleaning with [Environmental Protection Agency]-approved cleaners is all that’s necessary,” said Tia Campbell, the school health specialist for the Virginia Department of Education. “But when school divisions are making decisions like this, there are far more factors to consider.”
A version of this article appeared in the November 14, 2007 edition of Education Week