Oct 2, 2009

Something missing from the H1N1 fight


When the government announced its plans for dealing with H1N1 in schools on August 24th there was something missing.

The government’s “pandemic response framework”, announced by the Ministers of Education and Healthy Living and sport deals with issues like transporting the sick, communications, roles of emergency response teams, school instruction and post-pandemic recovery plans.

What was missing?  There was no discussion of clean schools.

Some people seem to think keeping schools (as well as colleges and universities) clean is an important step in dealing with a possible pandemic.  The Public Health Agency of Canada issued a guidance last May saying:

Influenza viruses can survive on some surfaces for several hours to days but are rapidly destroyed by cleaning.  Cleaning of objects and surfaces that are frequently touched by multiple students or staff, high touch surfaces such as doorknobs, faucet handles, toys, computer keyboards, telephones, school bus hand rails, etc., will help to prevent the transmission of the influenza virus from person to person through contaminated hands.

It is recommended that high touch surfaces in schools and child care centres be cleaned at least twice daily.  No special disinfectants or waste handling practices are required for influenza; regular household or commercially available cleaning products are sufficient for this purpose, and waste handling would be according to usual standards.

Schools are advised to increase the frequency of cleaning during school hours as well as monitoring hand cleaning supplies.  All sinks in washrooms, kitchens and classrooms should be well stocked with hand washing supplies at all times. (i.e., soap and paper towels).  Consider the supervised use of alcohol-based hand rubs (with 60-90% alcohol) in classrooms without hand washing sinks. (emphasis added)

The American Centre for Disease Control had similar advice.

But here in British Columbia many schools are in no position to clean high contact areas twice a day.  In fact, many of our elementary schools have no daytime custodian at all.  Custodians come into schools only at night and if a mess occurs it is often the principal who cleans it up.

Things got worse this spring during the election campaign as many school boards across the province, faced with budget shortfalls, among other cuts trimmed custodial staff even further.

We still don’t know what the impact of H1N1 will be but the province is making it issues of individual responsibility.  They are telling parents to have their children wash their hands and cough into their sleeves.  That’s good advice but Canada’s Public Health Agency has also had good advice for the government about clean schools.  The province should make sure school boards have the resources to follow that advice.

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