As teachers return to school, they are going to be under a lot of stress, especially where schools are starting with at least some in-person instruction.
The educators, or their support staff, are being asked to take temperatures as students arrive, keep them spread out, ensure they are wearing masks, sanitize throughout the day the surfaces the students touch, and, oh yeah, catch them up from what they missed in the spring while trying to impart new material.
At some schools, the teachers are being asked to do both in-person and virtual instruction so that the children of families that aren’t comfortable yet with coming to school — or who are quarantined after school starts — aren’t left out.
Is there anything that could be taken off of their pandemic-filled plate?
According to a recent article in The Atlantic, there is: this obsession with sanitizing every possible surface where the virus might be lurking.
The Atlantic has done some very good reporting during the pandemic, and its piece on deep cleaning and other sanitizing measures is something that every school official, teacher and parent might want to read (bit.ly/2DtRqY0).
The takeaway from it is that while sanitizing surfaces may be essential in hospitals and nursing homes — where they have to worry about a lot of infections besides COVID-19 — in most indoor public spaces and homes, it’s way low on the totem pole of necessary precautions.
That’s because there’s little in the way of science to support that COVID-19 is transmitted to any significant degree by touching contaminated surfaces.
What scientists have converged on is that the transmission is overwhelmingly via air: either the large droplets that we emit when we sneeze or cough, or the smaller aerosolized droplets released when we talk or sing. That’s why they stress wearing masks, keeping your distance from others and moving as many activities as possible outdoors.
Derek Thompson, the author of the Atlantic article, cites a case study from a South Korean mixed-use skyscraper early during the pandemic that illustrates the primacy of airborne vs. surface transmission.
“On one side of the 11th floor of the building, about half the members of a chatty call center got sick,” writes Thompson. “But less than 1 percent of the remainder of the building contracted COVID-19, even though more than 1,000 workers and residents shared elevators and were surely touching the same buttons within minutes of one another.” That result would suggest that the coronavirus weakens very quickly on surfaces.
So, how did people get so worried about contracting COVID-19 from doorknobs, tabletops and even food packaging? A lot of it dates back to studies publicized earlier this year that claimed the virus could live on hard surfaces for up to three days and paper for 24 hours.
Thompson interviewed Emanuel Goldman, a microbiology professor at Rutgers New Jersey Medical School, who looked at the studies and found them stacked by virus concentrations that had “no resemblance to the real world.” To get the same conditions that were used in the lab, he explained to Thompson, “as many as 100 people would need to sneeze on the same area of a table.”
Nevertheless, the sanitation craze endures. The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention still recommends to schools that reopen to clean and disinfect frequently touched surfaces on their campuses and on school buses at least daily, and more often if possible. The Mississippi State Department of Health, though not as explicit, calls for “frequent environmental cleaning of frequently touched areas.”
Clif Barnes and his brother, Brian, have been in big demand not only at schools but at institutions of all types. The part-owners and operators of Greenwood-based Barnes Janitorial Services have given about 100 presentations on how to best sanitize indoor spaces since the outbreak of COVID-19 began.
The coronavirus, said Clif, is relatively easy to kill. One product his company carries will do the job in a minute’s time, if the chemical is left alone for that long. (A common mistake people make when they’re sanitizing, he said, is to spray a surface and wipe it immediately.)
Clif’s business is selling cleaning supplies, so you wouldn’t expect him to say they’re unnecessary or that their main purpose in this pandemic is to calm people’s anxieties. But he doesn’t overstate their importance either, emphasizing, as even the scientists skeptical of surface transmission do, that frequent hand-washing is the most important cleaning step a person can take.
Clif said that one of the reasons he’s not nervous about in-person classes resuming for his two daughters and a son this coming week is he feels the threat of infection, from a surface standpoint, is manageable.
“Even if the surface doesn’t get perfectly clean and disinfected, because that risk is so low, I feel comfortable with my children going back to school.”
Contact Tim Kalich at 581-7243 or firstname.lastname@example.org.