Be prepared: Resources for Covid-19 tailored to school employees

Information on how to prepare for infectious diseases is always worthwhile–whether it’s influenza or the new threat of the Covid-19.

As school employees with large populations of students coming in and out the door each day, we face particular challenges. AFT has developed resources to make sure your campus and district are ready to meet these challenges. These resources have been developed by professionals, and include input from our public education and public health members. (AFT is the second-largest nurses union in the country.)

The key information for teachers, nurses, custodians, and others is listed below, but you can find all the info and updates at: https://www.aft.org/coronavirus/

More information

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Key information from AFT resources:

Infection Control in School Settings

Now is a good time for school districts to review and evaluate their current infection control practices. If schools follow the evidence-based guidance developed over the last few years, the risk of exposure to this newly identified coronavirus and other droplet/airborne diseases will be significantly reduced.

Seasonal flu is far more common in the United States than the coronavirus and can be quite serious. Improving infection control practices makes sense. As much as possible, schools should evaluate general dilution ventilation to make sure that heating, ventilation and air conditioning (HVAC) systems deliver adequate fresh air to classrooms and other school areas. Good indoor air quality can dilute the concentration of infectious viral droplets and aerosols and thus reduce the risks of infection.

For more information about preventing the spread of the coronavirus, see https://www.cdc.gov/coronavirus/2019-ncov/about/prevention-treatment.html

Other Important Practices Include:

1. Excluding children with fever and respiratory symptoms from school until symptoms are resolved. This is an ideal policy that is rarely followed. Many parents and guardians send sick children to school because they have no alternative. The school nurse or a designated responsible adult when no school nurse is available should work with teachers and staff to quickly identify sick children and isolate them from the general school population. These students should be cared for in a separate area until they can be picked up.

2. Working with the local public health department to adopt extraordinary measures if the coronavirus threat grows in the community. School districts should follow the directions of the health department in referring any suspected cases of the new virus to the appropriate healthcare facility or provider. For instance, the district should adhere to the protocol for referring students and staff with respiratory illness who have traveled outside the country or been in contact with anyone with suspected or confirmed coronavirus illness.

3. Stepping up education and good reminders (posters, etc.) in classrooms and to parents on the current infection control policies, including:
a. Good hand hygiene. Schools must provide soap and hand sanitizer. Students should be given additional time and opportunities to wash their hands. Instruct students to wash their hands with soap and water after using the bathroom and before eating.
b. Reminders to all to avoid touching their faces, particularly eyes, nose and mouth, with unwashed hands.
c. Students and staff should be encouraged to stay home from school for any respiratory illness and consult their healthcare provider. Staff should not be sanctioned for taking sick leave.

4. As much as possible, custodial and classroom staff should follow commonsense cleaning and disinfection practices and avoid the overuse of disinfectants. Exposure to disinfectants has been associated with asthma exacerbation. Staff may wish to use disinfectant to clean high-use areas, such as doorknobs and other frequently handled objects and surfaces, with diluted bleach or disinfectants recommended by the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency. Avoid using quaternary compounds (such as Lysol) to clean desks and other surfaces. These surfaces can be cleaned with general natural cleaners and microfiber cloths.

For School Nurses:

1. School nurses should ask students presenting with a fever if they have traveled outside the United States or been in contact with anyone who has.

2. Students who may have the coronavirus should be supported and given a surgical mask and treated away from other students.

3. If the school nurse suspects that the child may have the coronavirus, the nurse should don an N95 respirator while treating the child.

4. Contact the local or state public health department to report the case.

For School Custodians:

1. Custodians should be given adequate training and supplies to address any extraordinary cleaning and disinfection practices.

2. Under the Occupational Safety and Health Administration’s Hazard Communication Standard, workers covered by OSHA have the right to training on how to use cleaning supplies and other chemicals safely. They should have gloves that are appropriate for the chemicals used. To determine if you are in an OSHA-approved State Plan state, check here: www.osha.gov/stateplans.

3. Additional custodial staff may be needed if there are a lot of potential cases. 4. Custodians who routinely use disinfectants should be counseled to report any respiratory symptoms or asthma associated with use of the chemicals. They may need respirators and additional personal protective equipment to avoid symptoms or attacks.

For more information, contact Sara Markle-Elder in the AFT Nurses and Health Professionals Department at 202-393-8630 or smarkle@aft.org.

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