COVID-19 and the flu – how to manage infection spread in schools

Managing Influenza outbreaks in children

As we continue to manage the coronavirus outbreak, the flu season approaches. Some researchers suggest that overall flu cases in Australia may decrease this year due to restrictions and earlier measures. Others argue that the country is more vulnerable than ever and that the flu season could result in more cases of respiratory illnesses.

In schools and early learning centres, it’s easy for viruses to spread due to the large number of children and teachers interacting. Here’s some tips and practical advice compiled by our Health, Hygiene and Safety specialists to help educators and school staff manage this flu season.

#Tip 1: Hand hygiene

Did you know that wet or damp hands can carry and transfer up to 1,000 times more bacteria than dry hands?

While hands should be cleaned with an alcohol-based soap and rinsed with lukewarm water, they should also be dried thoroughly. Drying hands is a crucial yet commonly missed step, which helps to rid germs that may not have been removed during handwashing.

Remind students to wash their hands regularly. Alcohol-based hand sanitisers are also a convenient solution which offer up to a 99.5% effective clean.

#Tip 2: Educate through play

The average cough expels around 3,000 tiny droplets and a sneeze expels around 40,000 droplets. It is important to educate children on how germs travel and how long droplets can survive in the air and on surfaces.

A fun activity to demonstrate this is to ask children to grab a handful of flour and hold this in front of their face and pretend to cough. This will help them visualise how germs can travel in the air when they cough and sneeze.

#Tip 3: Environmental cleaning

Contaminated surfaces such as toys and furniture in classrooms and centres can be vehicles for spreading infection. Routine cleaning of desks, keyboards, handles along with any other items and areas that are touched frequently, is essential for minimising an outbreak.

#Tip 4: Make social distancing fun

There’s plenty of games and activities that can still be done without students touching or standing close together. ”Simon Says” and “Red light, green light” are good examples of games that can be modified to keep students apart while having fun.

To play “Red light, green light”, line up players 1.5 to 2 metres apart, and select one student to be the traffic light standing with their back against the group a distance away. When the traffic light calls “Green light” the other players move towards the traffic light. When the traffic light turns around and calls “Red light” the players must stand still. The first player to go past the traffic light wins.

Wherever possible, try to stagger student breaks to limit movements and contacts between student/class groups and avoid queuing and large group activities.

#Tip 5: Immunisation of children and carers

In the case of vaccine preventable diseases, the risk of infection in schools and early learning centres can be significantly reduced if children are age-appropriately vaccinated against influenza. Seasonal immunisation of educators and carers is strongly advised by medical practitioners.

When it comes to COVID-19, all educators should follow the guidelines of the Chief Medical Officer in their state. If a child or staff member is suspected of being exposed to COVID-19, follow existing protocols for communication, contact tracing and cleaning.

For more advice on preventing and controlling the spread of infection, get in touch with our team of Health and Hygiene Specialists on 13 26 44.