Ventilation and hygiene: Advice and tips for primary schools

Written by: Dr Neil Bacon | Published:
Image: Adobe Stock

One year on and good ventilation and hygiene remain at the heart of keeping school sites and classrooms Covid-safe. It is worth reminding ourselves of the safest approaches. Dr Neil Bacon offers some advice and tips for primary schools


For many teachers, classroom assistants and other staff, the return to school has caused great concern and uncertainty over the potential health risks.

This presents a difficult situation for headteachers, under pressure to balance an optimal educational experience with creating an environment as clean as your typical hospital. However, there are various steps available to school leadership to ensure that educational institutions are kept as hygienic as possible.


Hands up for hygiene

The first important step is ensuring hand hygiene among all parties, something that has been well documented over the course of the Covid-19 pandemic. We have all learnt to wash our hands to the tune of “happy birthday” (20 seconds) and lived by the “hands-face-space” mantra.

The World Health Organisation (WHO) has recommended washing hands with soapy water or using alcohol-based sanitiser on hands which may have touched a contaminated surface.

However, alcohol-based sanitisers can have negative effects for our hand health, drying them out and exacerbating skin conditions such as eczema or psoriasis. These risks are greater for young children, who might not understand that the product is dangerous to ingest, particularly when scented. Indeed, there have been reports during the pandemic of cases of poisoning from the ingestion of alcohol gels (Brooks, 2020). This is something we must consider when giving these gels to curious young children.

An alternative option would be alcohol-free sanitisers, which would have minimal side effects if ingested and create no irritation. If choosing an alcohol-free sanitiser, schools should make sure to choose one that has been tested against SARS-Cov-2, the pathogen that causes Covid-19.


Sorting out surfaces

As well as hand cleanliness, surfaces are easily contaminated and so must be kept hygienic to avoid them becoming a vector for transmission. When looking at surface disinfectants, the key thing to consider is efficacy at killing pathogens such as SARS-Cov-2 and, vitally, for how long it is effective.

Many disinfectants will kill viruses present on a surface, but will not continue to kill viruses and other pathogens that come into contact with the surface after the disinfectant is applied.

In other words, if children are regularly touching a particular surface, the risk is that the disinfectant would need to be applied more regularly than is realistically possible in order to be effective. For teachers busy working with a class, having to regularly apply a disinfectant to surfaces can negatively impact the educational experience for pupils – not to mention hinder their teaching.

To avoid this, schools should be looking for protective disinfectants that remain effective at killing pathogens for as long as possible after they are applied. This could be crucial to maintaining the balance between hygiene and quality of teaching, allowing cleaners to apply the product once a day, freeing up teachers and students to focus on learning.

Given the potential additional cost to schools of implementing Covid-19 measures, cost-effective products that do not need applying regularly throughout the day could save valuable financial resources for schools, too.


Ventilation is valuable

Another important consideration is ventilation. Covid-19 can be passed on by respiratory droplets which are released into the air as an infected person coughs, sneezes, or even just exhales. Ventilating classrooms, corridors and halls ensures that fresh air can enter the space, replacing old, infected air. Research shows that being in a room with fresh air can reduce the risk of transmission via airborne particles by up to 70 per cent (DHSC, 2020).

The best way to ensure optimum air flow largely follows common sense. You should, of course, open windows wherever possible and with the warmer summer months incoming this will be much more manageable. Opening doors within a confined space if possible will also enable air flow, as will installing fans to move the air around within a particular room. Ventilation is not rocket science and should not be a constant worry for teachers – but following these basic principles can freshen the air to ensure they are protecting themselves and their students.


Masks

The other measure that teachers can take to reduce the risk of airborne transmission is mask-wearing.

The government’s coronavirus guidance (DfE, 2021) recommends for primary schools face coverings “should be worn by staff and adult visitors in situations where social distancing between adults is not possible (for example, when moving around in corridors and communal areas)”. However, it adds: “Children in primary school do not need to wear a face covering.”

There are various challenges to constant mask wearing in the classroom – teachers may for example need to remove face masks temporarily in order to attend to a pupil, explain something or retain control of the classroom. As such, sanitising hands and surfaces and ventilating spaces gain even more importance.


Conclusion

The light at the end of this tunnel is in sight with more people being vaccinated every day. By taking the proper precautions to reduce transmission of the virus schools can ensure they are providing a safe environment for teachers and pupils and maximising the quality of the teaching experience.

  • Dr Neil Bacon is medical director and CEO of JVS Health, which has developed GermErase, a multi-surface protector. Visit www.germerase.com


Further information & resources

  • Brooks: Covid-19: Hand Sanitizer Poisonings Soar, Psych Patients at High Risk, Medscape, December 2020: http://wb.md/38FLgk6
  • DfE: Collection: Guidance for schools: coronavirus (Covid-19), last updated March 5, 2021: http://bit.ly/3lhPcfT
  • Department of Health & Social Care: New film shows importance of ventilation to reduce spread of Covid-19, November 2020: http://bit.ly/3lgExSI


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