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Guidelines for Getting Back to School During a Pandemic


By Jim Ronchi
As government and schools discuss opening again this fall, we have to look at it in a very different way. COVID-19 has not gone away and is still spiking in many states. As we know, the virus that causes COVID-19 is mainly spread by respiratory droplets, but can also be spread if you touch a contaminated surface then touch your eyes, nose or mouth before washing your hands. How is this going to be contained in a school setting? What will make us feel a little safer in thinking about sending students back to school? We really do not have all the answers, but should administer a plan to keep everyone as safe as possible. Here are some guidelines to follow before reopening.

1. Remain aware of changing outbreak conditions, including as they relate to community spread of the virus. Implement infection prevention measures accordingly. 

2. Assess the hazards to which staff and students may be exposed; evaluate the risk of exposure; and select, implement, and ensure everyone uses controls to prevent exposure. 

3. Teach and reinforce handwashing with soap and water for at least 20 seconds and increase monitoring to ensure adherence among students and staff.

  • If soap and water are not readily available, hand sanitizer that contains at least 60% alcohol can be used (for staff and older children who can safely use hand sanitizer).
  • Encourage staff and students to cover coughs and sneezes with a tissue. Used tissues should be thrown in the trash and hands washed immediately with soap and water for at least 20 seconds.
  • Display posters promoting hand-washing.1

4. Cleaning and Disinfecting

Your environmental staff or hired cleaning contractor should be well trained on the proper procedures of cleaning and disinfecting. Routine cleaning and disinfecting plays a big part in keeping everyone safe.

Cleaning should be performed per established protocol set by the school, followed by disinfection.

You should always clean surfaces with an all-purpose cleaner, preferably 3rd party Green certified or soap and water to remove visible dirt. This decreases the viral load and helps optimize the efficacy of the disinfectant. 

Six Steps for Cleaning and Disinfecting 3

5. Alternative disinfection methods

According to the CDC:

  • The efficacy of alternative disinfection methods, such as ultrasonic waves, high intensity UV radiation, and LED blue light against COVID-19 virus is not known.
    • EPA does not routinely review the safety or efficacy of pesticidal devices, such as UV lights, LED lights, or ultrasonic devices. Therefore, EPA cannot confirm whether, or under what circumstances, such products might be effective against the spread of COVID-19.
  • CDC does not recommend the use of sanitizing tunnels. There is no evidence that they are effective in reducing the spread of COVID-19. Chemicals used in sanitizing tunnels could cause skin, eye, or respiratory irritation or damage.
  • CDC only recommends use of the surface disinfectants identified on List N against the virus that causes COVID-19.1

6. What should be disinfected

  • All cleanable surfaces should be disinfected daily
  • High touch points should be cleaned and disinfected multiple times per day specifically during a pandemic:


  • Doorknobs or handles
  • Light switches and cover plates
  • Paper towel dispenser knobs or handles
  • Faucet handles
  • Toilet and urinal flush levers
  • Toilet and urinal partitions, doors (including knobs, levers or slides)
  • Other items identified locally

Lunch rooms/Cafeteria:

  • Refrigerator door handles
  • Microwave door handles and buttons/keypads
  • Table tops
  • Doorknobs or handles
  • Light switches and cover plates
  • Vending machine buttons
  • Drinking fountain
  • Other items identified locally

Locker Rooms

  • Doorknobs or handles
  • Light switches and cover plates
  • Benches
  • Linen Bins


  • Doorknobs or handles
  • Light switches and cover plates
  • Telephones
  • Chairs
  • Desk Tops
  • Other commonly touched items identified locally (e.g. keyboards, keypads, copiers, etc.)

Other locations:

  • Elevator call and operating buttons
  • Stairway handrails, doorknobs, light switches
  • Hallway doorknobs, handles, drinking fountain faucets
  • Vehicles’ steering wheels, door handles, shift knobs, dashboard controls

Germs can accumulate much faster in these areas due to the amount of times they are touched.2

Finally once your school has been cleaned and disinfected, make sure everyone is following the masking protocol and practicing social distancing. For more information on school guidelines, see CDC Considerations for Schools and for information on operating  procedures for emergency childcare facilities click here.

I hope these tips will help guide you in the right direction. Remember we are all still unsure about returning our children back to school, but we are also in this together and if we follow the proper steps and guidelines, it will help us maintain a safe environment.

           2-COVID-19 Resources for Custodians
jimmarkJim is the Project Manager for the Deirdre Imus Environmental Health Center. Jim is responsible for training and sales of the GTC Product Line and is also the content manager for the Center's website.  He has been with the Center since 2003 and has successfully implemented GTC in hundreds of businesses, schools and hospitals throughout the East coast. Prior to joining the Center team, Jim was an Environmental Services Manager and Director for over 20 years at Holy Name Hospital, Overlook Hospital and HackensackUMC.

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