What Happens When a School Shuts Down for Flu Cleaning, Anyway?

This year's flu season keeps going and going.
This year's flu season keeps going and going. Shutterstock
The 2017-18 flu season, according to both experts and rising death tolls around North Texas, is one of the worst of the last two decades. In Dallas County alone, 60 people have died from the flu.

As the flu season continues to take its toll on DFW, schools around the region — including several private schools in Dallas — have closed their doors for days or weeks at a time to allow sick students and teachers to recover and sometimes to give an outside cleaning crew time to deep-clean the schools' facilities. While the processes the cleaners use sound impressive, it isn't clear they're necessary, according to guidelines provided by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.

The CDC says that schools need to both clean and disinfect to slow down the spread of the flu during flu season. Cleaning removes dirt and germs and disinfecting kills germs, but no special procedures are necessary, the agency says.

"Follow your school’s standard procedures for routine cleaning and disinfecting. Typically, this means daily sanitizing surfaces and objects that are touched often, such as desks, countertops, doorknobs, computer keyboards, hands-on learning items, faucet handles, phones, and toys," CDC guidelines say. "Some schools may also require daily disinfecting these items. Standard procedures often call for disinfecting specific areas of the school, like bathrooms."

Because flu viruses are relatively fragile, according to the CDC, "standard cleaning and disinfecting practices are sufficient to remove or kill them," even during an outbreak.

"If students and staff are dismissed because the school cannot function normally (e.g., high absenteeism during a flu outbreak), it is not necessary to do extra cleaning and disinfecting," the CDC says.

That's surprising, given the fact that the typical elementary schoolchild is a snot-dripping petri dish with legs who makes Typhoid Mary look like a piker. It also probably explains why many districts have reached out to outside companies for specialized services during the 2017-18 school year.

In Bonham, a town in far North Texas, school Superintendent Marvin Beatty shut his district down for a week while Total Building Maintenance, a Carrollton company, cleaned all five of Bonham ISD's schools at a cost of about $5,000, according to interview Beatty gave KXAS-TV (NBC 5). Rene Moreno, Total Building Maintenance's area operations manager, explained to the Observer what his company did.

"First, we do a detailed cleaning of the facility, just to make sure that everything is set up for us to come in and spray with the Clorox 360 — the electrostatic charge Clorox 360 machine. We wipe down all of the counters and any surfaces that may come in contact with the kids," Moreno says.
The Clorox Total 360, cleaning companies' new killer system, sprays a layer of cleaning products over every surface in the building. The machine statically charges the chemicals — Clorox's normal cleaners — so that they "cling to every surface, every little crevice and every area," Moreno says. The process kills 99.5 percent of all MRSA and flu viruses that are out there right now, he says.

Going above and beyond normal practices, despite the CDC's contention that "special cleaning and disinfecting processes, including wiping down walls and ceilings, frequently using room air deodorizers, and fumigating, are not necessary or recommended" is about providing piece of mind, Moreno says.

"The detailed cleaning of the disinfectant is almost like insurance on top of the regular cleaning that you have right now. The chemicals themselves create a better result," Moreno says.

And if that doesn't work, may we suggest a little touch of napalm? Not on the kids, of course, the little grubbers. That would be wrong.
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Stephen Young has written about Dallas news for the Observer since 2014. He's a Dallas native and a graduate of the University of North Texas.
Contact: Stephen Young