As the states begin to allow businesses to open from lockdown, shelter in place, and quarantine, childcare facilities face particular challenges. Not only must you guard against the little ones' propensity to touch everything and put it in their mouths, you now have a new germ to kill: Coronavirus SARS-CoV-2, the virus that causes COVID-19.
Since it is new, COVID-19 has no vaccine or treatment yet. Cleaning and disinfecting your childcare center takes on new urgency. Here is how to keep your facility clean and sanitized for the safety of children, staff, and parents.
Preparing and Planning for COVID-19
Although the rates of infection of COVID-19 are falling in some places, there is always a chance for future outbreaks. Dr. Anthony Fauci, the Director of the National Institute of Allergy and Infectious Diseases, stated that he fully expects the virus to recur in the fall. However, the U.S. will be better prepared to fight it.
Childcare businesses should be watching for further community outbreaks and be vigilant with cleaning and disinfecting activities. Consult the list of the EPA’s registered antimicrobial products for use against novel coronavirus SALS-CoV-2.
While a bleach diluted with water is a commonly accepted disinfectant, do not use so-called color-safe bleach or splashless bleach. Here's what makes them different:
- Regular bleach, also called chlorine bleach, contains the acceptable concentration for sodium hypochlorite to act as a disinfectant.
- Non-splash or splashless bleach is thicker than regular bleach. It contains a lower concentration of sodium hypochlorite than regular bleach and is insufficient to use as a disinfectant.
- Color-safe bleach does not contain sodium hypochlorite at all. The active ingredient is hydrogen peroxide, which is not acceptable as a disinfectant.
COVID-19 is a serious illness. While the disease appears less severe in children and adolescents, there is a significant risk that they could carry the virus back to parents or elderly relatives for whom the virus is much more deadly.
Know the Difference Between Cleaning, Sanitizing, and Disinfecting
Cleaning, sanitizing, and disinfecting are different concepts:
- Cleaning removes germs, dirt, and impurities from surfaces. Soap or detergent plus water physically removes germs from surfaces but does not necessarily kill them.
- Sanitizing lowers the number of germs on surfaces to a safe level as judged by public health requirements and may either clean or disinfect surfaces.
- Disinfecting kills germs on surfaces or objects.
Before a surface may be adequately disinfected, it must be cleaned. Dirt and other impurities can prevent disinfectants from effectively killing germs on a surface.
Use Cleaners and Disinfectants Properly
Always read and understand labels on all products used in your childcare facility or daycare center. Furthermore, train all personnel in the proper use of cleaners and disinfectants.
- Use special care in using products labeled for industrial or commercial use. Many products labeled hospital-grade can be toxic to children.
- Be careful of all products labeled germicidal.
- NEVER use products labeled DANGER or CORROSIVE.
- DO NOT combine or mix chlorine bleach and ammonia. The results can be deadly.
Speaking of mixing products, always check labels before doing so. Not all products can be used in combination.
How to Clean and Disinfect
Immediately clean surfaces and items that are visibly soiled. If they are covered in blood or other body fluids, use gloves and other precautions to avoid coming into contact with the material. Remove the spill, then clean and disinfect the object or surface.
Clean frequently touched surfaces often, daily at least. Such items include doorknobs, desks and tables, computer keyboards, phones, hands-on learning items, faucet handles, elevator buttons, and toys.
Keep a daily routine of cleaning and disinfecting according to state regulations and facility procedures. Consider all the areas in use each day and clean accordingly. Entryways, diaper-changing areas, play areas, bathrooms, and kitchens require special attention. Bathrooms and diaper-changing areas, in particular, need disinfecting.
- Wash all surfaces with a general household disinfectant to remove germs, dirt, and grime.
- Rinse the surfaces with clean water.
- Cover all surfaces with an EPA-registered disinfectant to kill germs.
Most disinfectants must remain on the surface for a period of three to five minutes to kill germs effectively. Again, read the label to ensure proper use. Check to see if the disinfectant must be wiped off at the end of that time.
Disinfecting wipes are handy for electronic items such as smartphones, computer keyboards, tablets, and monitors. The wipes limit the amount of liquid that enters the device and protects it from damage.
Cleaning Various Surfaces
Hard surfaces are the easiest to clean and disinfect. Toys with soft surfaces are a little more tricky.
- Wipe tables and large items with cleaner and disinfectant.
- Smaller hard-surfaced items may be cleaned and sanitized in the dishwasher.
- Linens and cloth may be cleaned and disinfected in the washing machine.
Plush toys and other soft items that are not safe to place in the clothes washer must be spot cleaned. Carefully clean the surface of dirt, then blot or wet with disinfectant.
Never let your facility run short of cleaning supplies. Use a system such as a childcare management software solution to help you keep track of inventory and notify parents when more supplies are needed (if you rely on parents to provide them).
If you ask for different supplies for different groups, send out specially crafted emails to each group.
To control the spread of COVID-19, frequent and thoughtful attention is required to keep the environment safe for everyone.
Frequent handwashing is a must. Choose the correct products to clean and disinfect your facility. Follow all instructions in the use of those products. Store the products in a locked location out of children’s reach. Also, keep the phone number for Poison Control handy in all areas.
COVID-19 is likely to remain a threat for the foreseeable future. It gives all of us the motivation to maintain clean and healthy spaces, especially where groups of people meet. Follow these cleaning and disinfecting tips, share them with your staff, and regularly clean according to a routine.
We will get through this together.