Tim Ammon, co-owner of consultant the Decision Support group and a co-manager for the Student Transportation Aligned for Return To School (STARTS) Task Force, summed up the COVID-19 situation perfectly during a webinar on July 17, especially when it comes to use of hand sanitizer on a school bus.
Ammon said COVID-19 is a national problem with many local solutions. And as more guidance is released on a federal, state or local district basis, that statement can’t be closer to the truth.
Hand sanitizer is likely something most people probably have been carrying with them since the start of the pandemic, if not sooner. But related products are prohibited on all New York state school buses, for example. Yet other states nationwide have provided exceptions and allowed its use, going as far as authorizing dispensers on board.
Springdale Public Schools, located north of Fayetteville, Arkansas, installed hand sanitizer dispensers on all 174 school buses in an attempt to improve hand hygiene. Trisha Labit, the district’s school bus safety coordinator, said her department made sure to get permission from the Arkansas State Department of Education before installing.
She added that the staff chose a nonalcoholic substance, to be sure it wasn’t flammable and installed the dispensers near the front stairs. The district went with the brand Germ-X Fresh. When buying in bulk, the district receives dispensers free of charge.
Labit said not only are the dispensers located throughout the entire fleet but the entire transportation facility as well. The school buses are also equipped with spray bottles that school bus drivers will use in between routes, prior to the next group of students boarding.
Morgan Paris is the market development manager for GOJO Industries, the inventor and makers of Purell. She said the company is currently working with school districts to understand their needs on school buses. GOJO is currently providing four main products to school districts to help promote a safer transportation environment. Two of the main products are bottles of hand sanitizers and dispensers.
Addtional Products Offered by
The other two products GOJO Industries is offering districts are surface disinfectants and spill kits. Morgan Paris, the company’s market development manager, noted these products are being utilized by school districts for their buses nationwide.
Paris said the surface disinfectant is also a key product as it’s the lowest toxicity rating through the Environmental Protection Agency. She explained its noncorrosive and safe to use around kids. She said bus drivers can spray down their buses, let it sit for 30 seconds and then go about their day.
The last product that Paris said plays a large role in the school bus, is the company’s spill kits, which comes with two usages per container and has a three-year shelf life.
“Everything in that package is everything you would need to clean up a body fluids spill, so if someone is throwing up, someone has an accident, someone is bleeding, really gross disgusting things that nobody wants to touch,” Paris said. “So, in that kit we have all of the personal protective equipment required to clean up this spill.”
She said the PPE includes a full sleeved gown, gloves, masks, and even foot covers. It also has a solidifier in it to soak up whatever liquid is on the ground and make it easier to clean up. She said the kit comes with a mini surface spray, so that the bus driver or attendant can disinfect the area without getting right on top of it and breathing it in.
“It’s truly kind of taking that hazardous spill and taking risk away from that,” Paris said. “And because of those things, because we’re disinfecting our entire area or disinfecting the spill itself, you’re killing any type of pathogen that could be living so you’re able to use a normal trash bag.”
She noted it doesn’t require the biohazard bag, because the spill is already disinfected and cleaned of those pathogens. “Again, it’s super convenient because there’s a plastic clamp shell on it, and it can fit really easily behind a driver’s chair or in a compartment overhead.”
“We have some smaller dispensers that have a very small footprint [in the buses] that some [districts] have installed,” Paris explained. “When I say installed, they’re basically put up with 3M tape.”
She said the dispensers are easy to self-install and don’t leave a sticky residue behind when removed. Paris also explained that because the dispenser itself is small and leaves a low profile, districts have expressed little concern about the device being a snag hazard, at least they have yet to report any instances. She said GOJO industries is working with districts nationwide that have all different types of school buses and the dispensers fit anywhere on the buses without being a nuisance.
Paris also shared that Purell will not self-ignite, so there are no concerns about the flammability aspect. The company provided the following statement regarding its combustibility:
“Purell hand sanitizer is safely shipped all over the world in large and small quantities and often experiences extreme temperature storage conditions in automobiles, trucks, boats (shipping containers), and aircraft. While Purell Hand Sanitizer contains 70 percent ethyl alcohol and is considered flammable, it will not self-ignite. Even under extremely high temperatures, a high concentration of ethanol vapors and an ignition source (such as a spark or flame) would need to be present to cause a fire, not an explosion. These extreme conditions typically do not occur in an automobile or truck.
“Hand sanitizer has been safely used for more than three decades, and is an important hand hygiene solution, especially when soap and water are not available or convenient.”
Paris noted that Purell can be compared to a common household baking product.
“We’ve been able to compare the flammability of our products to that of something like vanilla extract,” Paris said. “Something that you know everyone uses in the household, you wouldn’t think anything of vanilla extract. But it will light on fire, just as quickly as our hand sanitizer will if there’s already a fire there.”
While Federal Motor Vehicle Safety Standard 302 specifies burn resistance requirements for materials used in school buses as well as passenger cars and trucks, states like Wisconsin have provided special exceptions for this school year.
The Wisconsin Division of State Patrol (DSP) released a document permitting the use of hand sanitizer to be carried in a school bus, as long as it’s kept in the driver compartment. The DSP also allows the installation of a permanently mounted hand sanitizer dispenser if it’s mounted in the driver’s compartment, notably in the area forward of the rearmost portion of the driver’s seat across the entire width of the bus. The dispenser must neither restrict passenger or driver movement, nor interfere with or obstruct the required emergency equipment, or create a catch space in the stepwell area.
In addition to states exceptions, the Transportation Security Administration is now allowing one liquid hand sanitizer container up to 12 ounces, instead of the usual 3.4 ounces of liquid, per passenger in carry-on bags until further notice, as according to its website.
Related: COVID-19 Puts New York State Education Budget Increase in Peril
Related: Arkansas School District Remodels Transportation Department for COVID-19 Social Distancing
Related: South Carolina Requires Mask Use in Public School Facilities
Related: Alabama Governor Orders Most Students to Wear Masks
Meanwhile, other states like New York remain opposed to onboard hand sanitizer. Reopening school guidance released on July 16 states that “School buses shall not be equipped with hand sanitizer due to its combustible composition and potential liability to the carrier or district. School bus drivers, monitors and attendants must not carry personal bottles of hand sanitizer with them on school buses.”
Pembroke Central School District located near Buffalo submitted its transportation plan to the state last Friday. It includes a section on the use of hand sanitizer. Transportation Supervisor Donna Hackett shared the plan with School Transportation News. It says, “By law, hand sanitizer is not allowed on buses, but hand sanitizer will be made available for staff in the bus garage, and proper hand hygiene will be promoted using signs.”
She noted that students are also not permitted to bring hand sanitizer on board, per the New York Department of Transportation regulations.
Randolph Jerreld, transportation director at Rotterdam-Mohonasen Central Schools, located near the state capital of Albany, said his district is communicating with parents to be sure student’s hands are clean before they enter the school bus. Staff will also be encouraging students to use the hand sanitizing stations inside the school buildings once arriving to school.
“Since the bus will be clean when [students] enter, they shouldn’t need anything while on the bus as long as they are social distancing,” Jerreld explained.
He noted that districts are only permitted disinfectant cleaner in a spray pump, which staff will use to wipe down the high-touch areas after each run.
“Staff are being encouraged to wash their hands both before and after boarding the bus. Gloves are available if they wish and are necessary if they need to come into direct contact with a student,” Jerreld said.