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Myth-busting: your Covid-19 cleanliness questions

It’s a worrying time for teachers, and confusion over cleaning doesn’t help. Laura McDonagh clears up the misconceptions

Laura McDonagh

Coronavirus hygiene: Teachers' questions about cleanliness in school answered

In the age of Covid-19, it’s important that teachers and support staff have the facts they need to protect themselves from the virus.

But the concerns go beyond physical health. The charity Education Support has just released its 2020 Teacher Wellbeing Index and revealed that 84 per cent of teachers surveyed in October described themselves as “stressed” or “very stressed.”

We asked teachers and other school staff for their questions and concerns about distancing, shared equipment, mask use and cleaning methods, as well as ways to protect mental wellbeing – and got answers from the experts.

Does antibacterial spray and hand sanitiser really kill Covid?
SENCO, Bootle

The short answer is yes, but only when used in the right way. 

“To protect against Covid-19, it’s important to choose a product which makes disinfecting claims – kills 99.99 per cent of bacteria, for example – but it’s also vital to use it correctly,” says Professor Valerie Edwards-Jones, an independent microbiologist and consultant.

If using a spray product, spray the surface directly, leave for a minimum for 30 seconds and then wipe in a repeated S shape so that you don’t cover the same area twice. “This mirrors the stringent conditions used to test products in the laboratory,” she says.

Damp cloths can increase the risk of bacteria, and so Edwards-Jones encourages the use of wipes. “Look for products that are well-known in healthcare settings such as Clinell Universal Wipes, which are currently used in nine out of 10 NHS hospitals.”

With alcohol-based hand sanitiser, use a 60 per cent product as a minimum, cover your hands thoroughly and then leave it to dry. “The problem most people make is that they’re not using enough – the small bottle sizes are misleading,” says Edwards-Jones. “Look for EN1500, EN12791 or EN14476 on the label, which will tell you that the product has met rigorous standards.”

Children are not always washing hands or making sure that they use hand gel in between lessons. I spray down all the surfaces with anti-bac and use hand gel, but I know the children don’t.
TA, Liverpool

Although it’s important for staff to lead by example, they also need to ensure they’re looking after their own physical and mental health, says Annie O’Neill, school nurse and co-founder of OM Health and Wellbeing.

“When we deliver wellbeing sessions for staff in school, we often talk about the circle of concern and the circle of control; a concept from the author and speaker Stephen Covey. It’s important – empowering, even – to recognise that they’re different things, and that there’s only so much you can control.”

Speak to your headteacher or senior leaders if you feel that students are persistently not engaging with advice. “Otherwise, keep focusing on what you can do. This member of staff sounds like they’re being a great role model for students, and they’re doing what they can to minimise risk,” says O’Neill.

I am concerned about moving around classrooms and using shared equipment such as mice and keyboards. We have been given our own mice/keyboard covers, but, in reality, we don’t have the time to fiddle around with them at the start of the lesson when the class is already there waiting. What would you advise?”
Secondary school teacher, North-West England

“The government’s 'Hands, Face, Space' campaign has been an effective one, but I do feel it’s missed one important element: surfaces,” says Edwards-Jones.

Although the virus may not be present in huge numbers of surface organisms, the minimum infectious dose for Covid-19 isn’t currently known. However, minimising the number – for example, by disinfecting high-touch points regularly and effectively – can certainly reduce your chances of infection.

“Don’t forget key fobs, your phone, ID cards, glasses and other items that end up moving from desk to desk,” Edwards-Jones adds. “And make sure you dispose of paper towels and wipes safely.”

I wish students had to wear masks in lessons. I wear mine in the corridors and until I have navigated my way to the teacher desk in each room, but I am then pinned at the front in my 2m zone, unable to help and support. If all wore masks, I could teach more ‘normally’ and roam the room, helping, supporting and well, teaching!
English teacher, Norfolk

In-classroom policies across schools differ widely, with some enforcing no-contact zones and others operating almost as normal. And although masks do help to reduce the spread of the coronavirus, they aren’t the whole picture.

“Again, I want to reiterate the role surfaces play,” says Edwards-Jones. “The fact is, touching students’ desks, books or pens can also cause transmission. Therefore, try to minimise contact with these high-touch points.”

Although teachers may be frustrated by policies, it’s important to prioritise their wellbeing. “When we talk to teachers about their mental health, we call it 'putting on your oxygen mask first',” says O’Neill. “Lots of staff in school aren’t used to doing that, but it’s absolutely critical, especially in these anxious times.

Laura McDonagh

Laura McDonagh is a freelance writer

Find me on Twitter @hey_laura_mc

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