5 Steps to Manage Sickness in Your K-12 School System

Schools are significant vectors for disease transmission, which is why so many states and school districts transitioned to remote learning over the course of the COVID-19 pandemic. Today, most students and teachers have returned to the physical classroom, but that doesn’t mean all precautions should be thrown out the window. On the contrary, COVID, influenza, and other transmissible diseases still threaten the health and well-being of all occupants of K-12 schools. Getting a handle on these viral threats is crucial for proper facility management, as even a few instances of student or teacher sickness can snowball into major learning loss and widespread health risks.

Of course, stopping sickness in its tracks requires a multi-faceted approach. Though the effects of germs are notable, these microorganisms themselves remain invisible, making proper tracing a major hurdle. Prevention is the key to proper management. With that in mind, here are five steps for managing the spread of illness in your K-12 school system as recommended by the CDC (Centers for Disease Control and Prevention).

Five Steps for Managing the Spread of Illness in Your K-12 School System

1. Encourage and Facilitate Vaccination

Vaccination remains one of the best ways to stave off disease transmission in communities and reduce severe symptoms if infection should occur. Local governments and individual school districts have different policies regarding student and teacher vaccination. Regardless of these guidelines, informing K-12 parents, teachers, and students about vaccinations (especially for COVID-19 and seasonal influenza) and their benefits will help bolster your facility against disease transmission throughout the year.

To further incentivize school-wide vaccination, make it easy for participants to receive their shots when they’re ready. Consider establishing an in-school or after-school vaccination program so students and staff don’t have to venture elsewhere to achieve immunity (or team up with nearby clinics to facilitate this process). Likewise, provide time-off support for those dealing with post-vaccination fatigue and other potential symptoms. The more convenient you can make vaccination for serious and seasonal diseases, the more people will participate, fortifying your school system from the flu, COVID, and more.

2. Keep Sick Students and Staff Home

While some diseases (including COVID-19) can spread asymptomatically, they tend to spread more easily when individuals who already feel sick are in close contact with others. Knowing this, anyone in your school system who’s feeling unwell should be encouraged to stay home until they’re feeling completely better or get cleared by their doctor. Economic circumstances can make it difficult for some students and staffers to steer clear of school during the week, so K-12 school administrators should do whatever they can to support students and workers during their recovery – this includes (in accordance with applicable laws and regulations) paid sick leave policies for teachers and remote learning opportunities for students. Implementing these supportive solutions will mitigate the spread of contagious diseases within your school, minimize learning loss, and facilitate teacher recovery so they can get back to work quickly and safely.

3. Improve Indoor Air Quality (IAQ)

Illnesses that spread through indoor air (such as COVID and the flu) have a much easier time lingering and finding hosts when said air is stuffy, stale, and poorly filtered. So, if you want to prevent and manage sickness in your K-12 schools, you must ensure that the air within each of your facilities is as pure as possible. Prioritizing proper ventilation is key. According to the CDC, “[optimizing] ventilation and [maintaining] improvements to indoor air quality [will] reduce the risk of germs and contaminants spreading through the air.” These improvements can be made before, during, and after the school year in several ways, and government funds through programs such as the Child Care American Rescue Plan and Head Start can reduce the financial burden on K-12 schools required to implement these changes.

Some of these IAQ-related actions include:

  • HVAC repairs, upgrades, and replacements

  • Installation of MERV-13 and HEPA air filters, portable air cleaners, and upper-room germicidal UV irradiation systems

  • Implementation of modern IAQ monitoring devices

  • Opening windows and doors when outdoor conditions are safe and comfortable

  • Holding certain learning activities outdoors

  • …and more

The cleaner the air everyone is breathing, the safer and healthier everyone will be.

4. Promote Proper Hygiene and Hand Washing

There’s no such thing as too many reminders when it comes to proper personal hygiene – especially in schools. Every student and staff member could use refreshers on best practices for washing their hands, cleaning their personal work spaces and supplies, and limiting the number of germs they’re spreading around. When everyone follows these simple practices, the risk of disease transmission within your school system goes way down. It’s up to school administrators to reinforce this good behavior by 1) posting clear signage in bathrooms, cafeterias, and hallways to cover coughs and sneezes, wash hands with soapy, warm water for at least 20 seconds (or sanitize hands), refrain from sharing beverages and food utensils, etc., and 2) providing occupants with ample soap, clean water, and hand sanitizers containing >60% alcohol.

5. Prioritize Cleaning and Disinfection

Hands aren’t the only things that need regular cleaning in your K-12 schools. Virtually every surface within your facility has the potential to harbor and spread germs from those who come into direct contact with them. High-touch surfaces like doorknobs, handles, countertops, desks, keyboards, toilets, and sinks pose especially high risks in this regard. Maintaining strict building cleaning and disinfection protocols at your school will create a safer, healthier, more beautiful environment for everyone. Of course, keeping up with this building maintenance requires careful prioritization, ample resources (labor and equipment), proper training, and creative solutions, such as antimicrobial barrier technology that disinfects indoor surfaces for up to 90 days per application.

The Budd Group Provides Solutions for Safer, Healthier Schools

The five recommendations outlined above are just a handful of ways to prevent and manage disease transmission in your K-12 school system; the CDC also suggests ongoing masking, testing, and other risk mitigation strategies based on a school district’s unique needs and challenges. If your school needs guidance or staffing support to implement these effective changes, The Budd Group is here to help. In addition to our comprehensive facility cleaning, maintenance, disinfection, and facility support services, we offer clients our BreatheWell Air Quality Program, complete with state-of-the-art air monitoring and purification equipment.

To learn more about this program and our wide range of services, give us a call today at 800-221-8158! And for detailed guidance for K-12 schools on safer in-person learning, visit the CDC’s website here.

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