Primary teachers are veterans of the war on germs

It is a well-known fact that there are more infectious microbes on one square centimetre of classroom surface than there are stars in the universe

Steve Eddison

Teacher wellbeing: How school staff can keep bugs at bay

A few days into the coronavirus school shutdown and here in the Eddison household, all is not well. No one as yet is suffering from any of the well-publicised symptoms – a dry cough or (as far as I can tell because medical thermometers are in short supply) a fever. The problem is Mrs Eddison is working from home and constantly finding things for me to do.

Today, I have been sent to buy essential items from our local supermarket. At the top of my list are tomatoes, a cucumber and a two-pack of baby gem lettuces. It is a task that not only increases my risk of contracting Covid-19 but also of being beaten to death in a tussle for the last box of Taste the Difference pomodorinos. Luckily, where items are unavailable, I am allowed to use my initiative. The last time I used my initiative was in January. Back then, the coronavirus was only a game of Chinese whispers and the prospect of it turning into a global pandemic was something nobody cared to think about. It didn’t occur to me at the time, waiting in the pharmacy department for my blood pressure and cholesterol-lowering medication, that my next decision might prove life changing.

On the shelf in front of me was a three-for-two offer on large bottles of antibacterial hand gel. Guided by instinct and the words of Sun Tzu – attack is the secret of defence – I decided that this was an opportunity not to be missed. In hindsight, had I known surgical face masks would later become de rigueur, I would have bought a job lot of those, too.

My decision that day was guided not by fears of the coronavirus but by the more mundane idea of having the means to fight off the usual battalions of primary-school bugs. It is a well-known fact that there are more infectious microbes on one square centimetre of classroom surface than there are stars in the universe, and it’s not possible to teach effectively when your head feels like exploding.

Combating seasonal illnesses is important for those of us on education’s front line. The nature of our work means contact with Mason’s snot, Abbie’s vomit and Dane’s saliva is inevitable. For this reason, I decided that a little spray before and after pupil contact would keep me free from contagion. "Stand aside, streptococci! Run away, rhinovirus! Influenza, flee for your life!" was my battle cry.

According to the labelling, my antibacterial hand gel is hypoallergenic, kind to skin and ruthless in its determination to kill more than 99.99 per cent of all germs. These include norovirus, MRSA and Clostridium difficile, so even though it’s not specifically mentioned on the labelling, I am sure that even coronavirus will not be able to resist its all-powerful bug-destroying capability.

Now, with schools closed and the intense emphasis on good hand hygiene, Mrs Eddison has commandeered my remaining antibacterial hand gel for home use only. And although I applied it liberally before entering this supermarket, and despite doing my best to maintain my social distance, I’m not convinced it will protect me from the fierce-looking woman eyeing up that last pack of baby gem lettuces.

Steve Eddison is a teacher at Arbourthorne Community Primary School in Sheffield

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