This article sets out the key public health measures that local authorities and schools should implement to minimise the risks of COVID-19 transmission and infection. These controls, when implemented alongside updated risk assessments, will help mitigate the risks for children, young people and staff.
Ensuring the right behaviours is key. For example, parents should avoid contacts with other parents, children and young people at the school gates, on the way to school and after school in order to try and reduce community spread/outbreaks. Schools can assist with this by having staggered start/finish times.
Schools should ensure a reasonable implementation and proportionate control measures which reduce risk to the lowest reasonably practical level. Every school should have active arrangements in place to ensure that controls are:
- working as planned
- aligned with the appropriate mitigations for their protection level
- appropriately updated as per the above, including considering any issues identified or changes in public health advice
Advice from the COVID-19 Advisory Sub-Group on Education and Children’s Issues notes that recent studies suggest that environmental contamination leading to transmission of COVID-19 is unlikely to occur in real life conditions, provided that standard cleaning procedures and precautions are enforced. In schools, the Sub-group noted that this means following the general guidance on:
- hand washing and respiratory hygiene,
- cleaning and disinfecting frequently touched objects and surfaces
- careful hand-washing with soap and warm water
- use of alcohol-based hand sanitiser before and after handling jotters, text books (or other pieces of equipment).
This section of the guidance has been updated in light of this more recent evidence.
There are two potential approaches to mitigating risks from surface contamination of jotters, textbooks and library books. Schools should consider which of these approaches is most appropriate for their circumstances as part of appropriately updated risk assessments.
(i) quarantining books for 72 hours remains an effective measure to mitigate the risks of handling them. The amount of infectious virus on any contaminated surface is likely to have decreased significantly after this time. School libraries adopting this approach may wish to develop quarantine procedures for returned books and resources. Book drops and book trolleys can be used as they are easy for staff to wheel into a dedicated quarantine area and can be easily labelled. This approach may be best suited to reducing transmission during outbreak situations. In other circumstances it may be disproportionate to the risks involved, particularly if it has a significant impact on learning and teaching.
(ii) Careful hand washing with soap and warm water/use of alcohol-based hand sanitiser before and after handling text books, jotters (or other pieces of equipment) mitigates the need for quarantine for 72 hours before, and 72 hours after. As far as possible and in line with effective practice, staff should avoid touching their mouth, nose and eye area. Good hand hygiene should be sufficient to prevent transmission of infection from these items, even if they are contaminated, as long as the person handling the item does not touch their face between handling the item and decontaminating their hands. Good respiratory hygiene (“Catch it, kill it, bin it”) is also required at all times.
CHECKLIST FOR SCHOOL ADMINISTRATORS, TEACHERS AND STAFF TO CONTROL COVID-19 IN THE INSTITUTION
1. Promote and demonstrate regular hand washing and positive hygiene behaviors and monitor their uptake. Ensure adequate, clean and separate toilets for girls and boys
- Ensure soap and safe water is available at age-appropriate hand washing stations
- Encourage frequent and thorough washing (at least 20 seconds)
- Place hand sanitizers in toilets, classrooms, halls, and near exits where possible
- Ensure adequate, clean and separate toilets or latrines for girls and boys
2. Clean and disinfect school buildings, classrooms and especially water and sanitation facilities at least once a day, particularly surfaces that are touched by many people (railings, lunch tables, sports equipment, door and window handles, toys, teaching and learning aids etc.). Use sodium hypochlorite at 0.5% (equivalent 5000ppm) for disinfecting surfaces and 70% ethyl alcohol for disinfection of small items, and ensure appropriate equipment for cleaning staff
3. Increase air flow and ventilation where climate allows (open windows, use air conditioning where available, etc.)
4. Post signs encouraging good hand and respiratory hygiene practices
5. Ensure trash is removed daily and disposed of safely
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