As more schools across the nation announce closures as a precaution of or in response to confirmed cases of COVID-19, commonly known as the coronavirus, some student transportation departments are taking extraordinary measures to disinfect their school buses.
According to Education Week, about 113 schools or districts across the country had closed at this report due to the coronavirus outbreak, and 56 of those schools had already reopened. A majority of closures are located in or near New York City, Washington state and California.
While many of the closed schools are small private schools, larger public school districts are now also closing. Fullerton County Schools in Atlanta closed its building and school bus doors to its enrollment of 95,534 students. Across the country, Elk Grove Unified School District in Sacramento, California with an enrollment of 63,297 students also closed.
With more than 118,100 confirmed cases worldwide at this writing, and news reports indicating the virus is spreading fast, many communities can’t be blamed for getting caught up in the resulting hysteria, especially when it comes to transporting the nation’s most precious cargo. Still, coronavirus has infected a fraction of the people worldwide that have contracted the seasonal flu, which killed about 35,000 people in the U.S. alone during the 2018-2019 season.
At this report, 28 people in the U.S. had died of coronavirus. Meanwhile, there were over 800 confirmed cases.
The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) states on its website the illnesses due to the coronavirus ranges from very mild, including some with no reported symptoms, to severe, including death. Older people and people of all ages with severe underlying health conditions like heart disease, lung disease and diabetes appear to be at higher risk.
Symptoms associated with coronavirus include fever, cough and shortness breath, and may appear two to 14 days after exposure. However, seasonal flu symptoms are extensive.
Community ISD, located 36 miles Northeast of Dallas, is taking proactive measures to disinfect its classrooms and school buses due to the coronavirus outbreak. Cody Cox, the director of transportation and maintenance, said the district is taking precautionary measures to make the community feel comfortable.
Due to the fact that Cox oversees all support services and operations, he said he has a better understanding and influence on what is happening in the school buildings and is able to carry out that same precautions at the transportation department. Every school bus driver and teacher are provided with Clorox wipes that can be used as needed.
Cox said the district also operates a Clorox Total 360 System Electrostatic Sprayer each morning in every school building and bus. The machines cost around $4,000 each and positively charge molecules. Instead of the midst simply falling and settling on the bus floor and seats, it seeks particles in the air to grab onto.
“If you just take a backpack sprayer that is used for killing weeds and you are just throwing this chemical in there and dosing everything in sight, again that is not effective, because I bet you are not crawling on your [knees] and looking under tables and desks and getting up underneath toilets,” Cox said. “Well, electrostatic does all that.”
The district bought four of the machines last summer to ramp up its efforts at keeping kids healthy in the classroom rather than at home sick during flu season. Prior to the coronavirus outbreak, Cox said the district used the machine about once every week or two weeks.
He added that his district has also placed hand sanitizers on all of the buses, in each classroom, and at the beginning of each school’s cafeteria lunch lines.
Cox said Community ISD started implementing these disinfectant procedures about three weeks ago.
However, he warned that districts need to be aware of their efforts and understand what measures are actually killing the virus and which aren’t.
“There are some very ignorant people that are just pouring bleach into sprayers and spraying it all over the place,” Cox said. “Well, that doesn’t necessarily fix your problem.”
Instead, Cox advised that districts need to read fact sheets on how to kill viruses. The information lists what viruses the product kills and in what amount of time. Cox said the disinfecting wipes the district uses are hydrogen peroxide-based. They are rated to kill the flu virus, the coronavirus, the common cold, and bronchitis, within four minutes of first contact.
The wipes, he said, are used throughout the day rather than waiting till after-hours to kill the germs. If a bus driver notices that a student is showing symptoms, they can try to quarantine the child and wipe down the seating area.
“Not only are we trying to get rid of the coronavirus, but we are trying to make sure our students don’t come down with the flu and other things that are also immune system depressants at the same time,” Cox explained. “So, it’s just not just, ‘Oh my god, let’s kill the coronavirus.’ No, we need to have a board spectrum that is going to kill the coronavirus and other things too. And that goes back to knowing your facts.”
Cox said his district is fast-growing and has a total enrollment of almost 3,000 students at the school. The district transports somewhere between 1,500 to 1,600 students, but student attendance in the classroom is what matters most when it comes to both education and funding reimbursement from the state.
Texas school districts are funded on average daily attendance (ADA). For instance, if only 94 percent of the district’s total enrollment is actually sitting in the classroom, the district is losing money, Cox said.
He added that Community ISD receives $58 per student per day.
“At the end of the day, if you are a district with a 94 percent attendance rating, and if you can get that up to a 96 percent, it would be like $2 million to $3 million dollars of more funding in our district from the state,” he shared.
About two months before the coronavirus news broke, Community ISD implemented additional at-risk counselors to help with the attendance. Cox said these counselors identify students who are chronically absent from school and offer them additional resources.
“If those children are in poverty and they just don’t have the resources to get to the doctor, then these counselors have recourses they can then reach out to, whether that be state agencies to help these children obtain proper medical care and medical treatment, to get them healthy and get them back in school,” Cox explained.
He said if students are not healthy and not in the classroom, then they are not getting educated. However, Cox said one of the most important aspects during times like this is a strong community outreach program and transparency. Cox said the district is working to disseminate information to parents on how to talk to their children about using hand sanitizer and washing their hands.
He said it’s important for the students to practice the same hygiene at school as at home. Currently, Texas has 13 active coronavirus cases.
The Evergreen State
The coronavirus has hit Washington state particularly hard with, according to the CDC, with 167 confirmed cases and 23 deaths. Meanwhile, 1 patient has recovered while 143 diagnoses remain active. Only New York had more reported cases at this report.
Snohomish Health District, located North of Seattle, confirmed on its website that a school district transportation department tested positive for the COVID-19 on Monday. The employee reportedly worked in the office. The district closed school on Tuesday in response.
Tacoma Public Schools also closed this week after individuals tested “presumptive positive” for the coronavirus at two elementary schools and a high school. The district closed Sheridan and Lowell Elementary School on Tuesday for the remainder of the week. Wilson High School also closed on Tuesday.
At this writing, Monroe School District had no known cases of the coronavirus, but the district is taking proactive measures. The school district also closed on March 5 to clean all the buildings and buses, as well as to allow staff to make contingency plans.
District spokeswoman Tamara Krache told School Transportation News that effective on March 2, the transportation department added daily sanitization of each bus to each driver’s post-trip inspection.
She said that bus drivers were directed to concentrate on cleaning the high touch areas, such as handrails, entry areas, seat backs and windows.
“All drivers also completed training in how to correctly use the district approved sanitizers to achieve the correct dwell time on surfaces and effectively kill any virus present,” Krache noted.
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Meanwhile, 11 coronavirus diagnoses were confirmed in Illinois, but two of the infected people since recovered. Community Consolidated School District 15 in Palatine, Illinois, located 31 miles southwest of Chicago, is ramping up its cleaning efforts due to the coronavirus outbreak.
Previously drivers were required to perform daily surface cleaning in the buses, including sweeping, cleaning windows and removing garbage. Drivers sanitized any areas where students soiled themselves, and each summer a company is hired to perform a deep cleaning, which entails removing seats professionally and cleaning all surfaces.
However, the district ramped up its efforts after the coronavirus outbreak, spokesman Morgan Delack told School Transportation News. The district is now disinfecting its buses each night at the end of routes. Delack said the drivers are instructed to clean from top to bottom with an antiviral product.
She added that students are being reminded to use hand sanitizer and wash their hands often.
The CDC said that the coronavirus spreads through close contact and when an infected person coughs or sneezes. The CDC recommends frequent hand washing or using a hand sanitizer that contains at least 60 percent alcohol. CDC said people should also avoid touching their eyes, nose and mouth.
For more information on the COVID-19 visit the CDC website.
Editor’s Note: The Transporting Students with Disabilities and Special Needs (TSD) Conference scheduled for March 20-25 and will include a recently added session on the strategies being employed to sanitize school buses from the COVID-19. The session will include Cody Cox of Community ISD. He will provide a product demonstration of the district’s sanitizing machines.