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How Omicron is affecting school cleaning companies

Nate PruittCleaning Services

Over the past two years, the coronavirus pandemic has affected every aspect of our personal and professional lives. Every person and organization, be it a business, a school, a church, or private home has had to adapt to new requirements as the variants of the virus were taking hold. It is hard to overestimate how Omicron is affecting school cleaning companies.

Working closely with school administrators, commercial cleaning contractors have had to follow guidelines from various sources. Organizations including the World Health Organization (WHO), UNICEF, and the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), have all published relevant recommendations. These have not only changed our understanding of how clean is clean enough in schools, but they have also altered the way contractors and their employees work.

How Omicron Is Affecting School Cleaning Companies

When the first wave of the coronavirus pandemic hit the United States, schools reacted by stopping in-person classes and moving towards remote instruction. School district officials, parents, and students worked hard to adapt to this new form of learning. It is now clear, though, that laptops cannot replace actual classroom work in the mid to long term. Some educators have gone as far as referring to this time as an educational disaster.

As school administrators and teachers are working to continue to keep schools open throughout the Omicron wave and teach students in person, commercial cleaning plays a critical role. Cleaning and disinfecting are major elements of keeping students safe. They also help minimize the spread of Omicron infections amongst students and faculty.

School cleaning companies have had to navigate changing guidelines from various sources. Organizations like the WHO issued guidance jointly with UNICEF and the Red Cross. Their suggestions for safe school operations include several steps:

  • Cleaning and disinfecting school buildings, classrooms, kitchens, and dining facilities
  • Paying particular attention to water and sanitation facilities by cleaning and disinfecting at least once a day
  • Focusing on surfaces that are touched most frequently, such as railings, lunch tables, door and window handles, as well as teaching and learning aids

In 2020, the CDC published a toolkit for school administrators which has been regularly updated to reflect the latest medical guidance. Aimed at school districts, it has become a useful reference for commercial school cleaning companies, too.

The toolkit guidelines largely follow those of the group led by the WHO. It begins by encouraging school districts to develop, implement, maintain, and revise a solid plan for cleaning and disinfection. Where such plans exist, commercial cleaners need to adapt to them – whether they are at the level of an individual school, an entire district, or a state.

The CDC’s recommendations are based on regular cleaning and additional disinfection procedures. The guidelines state that cleaning surfaces daily with soap or detergent may be sufficient for most surfaces in most situations; however, disinfection becomes necessary when people infected with the virus have been in a particular space. The same guidelines suggest that high-traffic areas need more frequent cleaning and possibly disinefection.

The disinfection requirement makes it clear how Omicron has affected commercial school cleaning companies. Contractors needed to increasingly prioritize disinfection as the virus spread at unprecedented speed across the United States at the beginning of this calendar year.

Making Disinfection Work in Schools

Maintaining healthy schools despite the spread of Omicron requires specialized disinfectants. Since the early days of the pandemic, cleaning contractors have had to refer to a list of effective disinfectants published by the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA).

Making disinfection work safely in schools has both logistical and practical considerations. For example, using strong disinfectants in a building that is highly populated comes with specific challenges. Commercial cleaning contractors in schools need to strike a balance between destroying the virus and keeping children safe from the cleaning products themselves.

Many disinfectants require cleaners to use specific personal protection equipment (PPE) such as gloves, goggles, or glasses. Simple face coverings, which are recommended or mandated by many schools, are often not enough when handling strong chemicals. 

In addition, depending on the chemical and the space, cleaners may also need to spend extra time preparing the cleaning area and ensuring adequate ventilation. Using the correct amount of disinfectant is critical to attaining the right level of disinfection without causing unnecessary health hazards.

Commercial school cleaning companies have had to adapt to an increased level of duty of care to accommodate handling strong disinfectants.

Added Time and Supplies

To recap, additional time required and the specialized supplies needed to clean and disinfect a school building are two of the biggest factors regarding how Omicron is affecting school cleaning companies.

Contractors have needed to train their teams in the use of additional PPE, both to avoid infection and undue exposure to strong disinfectants. Whilst most detergents have guidelines for use and dosage, when it comes to disinfecting with specialized chemicals, it is essential to dilute or mix exactly. When diluting with water, even the water temperature makes a difference to the disinfectant. Reputable cleaning contractors have had to ensure their staff receives updated or additional training. This guarantees their safety as well as highly efficient and effective cleaning.

Due to Omicron, keeping students, teachers, and support staff safe in schools requires more time spent on cleaning and disinfecting. Using PPE and disinfectants has become a necessity for school cleaning companies. As a result, schools districts are facing higher cleaning costs due to both the extended time required and the need for additional supplies.

Reopening Considerations

As Omicron spread at record speed across the United States during the second half of December and the entire month of January, some school districts decided to close schools. Whilst those were mostly located in the midwest and the northeast of the country, other districts have also considered following suit.

The decision to close a school is never taken lightly, and it also has an effect on how Omicron is affecting school cleaning companies. Reopening any building that has been closed for a considerable amount of time requires additional precautions. 

Building inactivity and limited use of water increase the risk of the spread of disease. Common dangers include Legionella, the bacteria that causes Legionnaires’ disease, lead and copper contamination from plumbing, and mold.

Cleaning contractors have had to adapt their standard operating procedures and protocols to accommodate these concerns. At the same time, they continue to mitigate the risks associated with the Omicron variant of the coronavirus. By now, leading professional contractors have developed specific approaches for the reopening of schools.

How School Cleaning Contractors Are Dealing With Omicron

At this stage of the coronavirus pandemic, professional commercial school cleaning companies have developed solid strategies to handle cleaning and disinfection requirements. The most successful contractors will also be able to review and adjust their procedures as guidelines change.

The beginning of 2022 made it clear that the pandemic is far from over, as new variants of the virus develop. To continuously provide safe cleaning services for schools, cleaning contractors need to work together with their relevant stakeholders to ensure they keep students safe.

Choose a reliable partner for your school

At DTK Inc., we take pride in establishing close relationships with all our clients in the Houston area and beyond. At the same time, we take great care to research the latest medical guidelines and recommendations for cleaning and disinfecting. Backed by our experienced team, we can offer you cost-effective, yet thorough and safe cleaning services.

Having built our business from our Houston base and expanded across four states, we enjoy working closely with school administrators at the local and district level. This allows us to develop protocols and procedures that reflect national and international guidance at the highest level whilst being adapted to suit our local schools. To learn more about how we can support your school, contact us today.