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Everyday Actions for Schools to Prevent and Control the Spread of Infections

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Everyday actions help keep students healthy by minimizing the spread of infections in school settings. Infections spread in schools because of shared objects, close contact with others, students playing closely together, lack of cleaning and disinfection routines and supplies, and lack of proper ventilation. Having these strategies in place can help prevent the spread of common childhood illnesses (e.g., gastroenteritis, colds, influenza) and maximize school participation. The below actions can help prevent the spread or acquisition of an infection:

  • Take steps for cleaner air
  • Cleaning, sanitizing, and disinfecting
  • Hand washing
  • Respiratory etiquette
  • Vaccinations

Take Steps for Cleaner Air

Person opening window

Improving air quality can reduce the number of germs in the air by increasing airflow, cleaning the air, or moving gatherings outdoors. Cleaner air can reduce the likelihood of spreading disease, particularly respiratory viruses. See CDC’s Ventilation in Buildings webpage for information on how to improve ventilation in a school.

Strategies that can be implemented to have cleaner air include:

  • Ensuring existing HVAC systems are providing the minimum outdoor air ventilation requirement in accordance with ventilation design codes.
  • Considering ventilation design and/or enhancements when remodeling or constructing new buildings to optimize clean air.
  • Opening windows, when doing so does not create a safety hazard, to increase ventilation. Having more windows open is more helpful, but even just cracking a few windows open is better than keeping all windows closed. Using fans to increase the effectiveness of open windows will help draw outdoor air into classrooms and other spaces.
  • Using portable air cleaners in spaces with low ventilation.
  • Holding some activities outside, such as lunch, certain classes, or recess/social periods.
  • Keeping bus windows open when it does not create a safety or health hazard.

Cleaning, Sanitizing, and Disinfecting

Schools can follow procedures for routine cleaning, sanitizing, and disinfecting. Typically, this means daily cleaning and sanitizing surfaces and objects that are touched often, such as desks, countertops, doorknobs, computer keyboards, hands-on learning items, faucet handles, phones, and toys. Schools should refer to local policy or other regulation for procedures on disinfecting specific areas of the school (e.g., food services areas, bathrooms).

Immediately clean surfaces and objects that are visibly soiled with blood or other body fluids. Use gloves and other personal protective equipment (PPE) as warranted to avoid contact with the fluid. Wipe or soak up the blood or bodily fluid, clean, and then disinfect the surface. For more detailed information, see Cleaning and Disinfecting Your Facility.

Rarely, a school might need specialized or enhanced cleaning and disinfection for a particular infectious disease. This can occur when a new pathogen emerges and an ill student has been in the school space or an outbreak occurs with a specific pathogen like norovirus. Schools should consult with their state or local health department to determine what cleaning and disinfection is needed in these instances.

Hand Washing

Children washing hands at school

Washing hands in school can help prevent the spread of respiratory and gastrointestinal diseases. Teaching and reinforcing proper handwashing can lower the risk of spreading diseases. Schools can set routines or scheduled opportunities for handwashing throughout the day. During times of increased illness spread or absenteeism, schools can evaluate hand hygiene routines and increase those opportunities. Schools could monitor and reinforce these behaviors, especially during key times in the day. Additionally, schools can provide adequate handwashing supplies (e.g., soap, water, and paper towels) within easy reach of the user. Washing hands with soap and water is preferred because it reduces the amount of all types of germs, dirt, and chemicals on hands. However, if soap and water are not available, hand sanitizer containing at least 60% alcohol can be provided. Store hand sanitizers up, away, and out of sight of younger children and allow their use only with adult supervision for children under 6 years of age.

Respiratory Etiquette

Schools can teach and reinforce respiratory etiquette to help keep individuals from getting and spreading respiratory viruses, including but not limited to influenza, RSV, and SARS-CoV-2 (the virus that causes COVID-19). Reinforce covering of the mouth and nose with a tissue when coughing or sneezing and throwing the used tissue in the trash after use. This might require locating tissues in areas convenient for easy student access (e.g., at workstations or near play centers). If a tissue is not available, students and staff can be reminded to sneeze into the elbow, not the hands. Handwashing should be performed immediately after blowing the nose, coughing, or sneezing.


Child receiving vaccination

Staying up to date on recommended vaccinations is essential to prevent illness and to prevent severe illness from some infections. All states, the District of Columbia, and territories have vaccination requirements for children attending schools. These requirements are important tools for maintaining high vaccination coverage and low rates of vaccine-preventable diseases. Schools and health departments can help promote equitable access to routine and annual vaccinations, including for influenza and COVID-19, for staff and students in many ways:

  • Provide information about recommended vaccines to staff, students, and families.
  • Promote the safety and effectiveness of vaccines.
  • Establish supportive policies and practices that make getting vaccinated easy and convenient, for example developing a workplace vaccination program, providing paid time off for individuals to get vaccinated, or assisting family members receiving vaccinations.
  • Make vaccinations available on-site by hosting school-located vaccination clinics, or connect eligible children, students, teachers, staff, and families to off-site vaccination locations.
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