7 Back-to-School Safety Tips for Students and Parents

October 1, 2020

school supplies and infection prevention supplies on a desk

As some schools gear up for in-person learning, many parents are concerned about the spread of harmful germs. This blog helps explain how germs spread and review some techniques to help reduce transmission, including hand washing and social distancing, and decolonizing the nose.

Germ transmission can occur through several modes, such as [1]:

  • Direct or indirect contact: Germs can spread through direct skin-to-skin contact. They may also be transmitted indirectly when someone touches a surface that an infected person had previously touched.
  • Sprays: Coughing and sneezing can dislodge microbes from the respiratory tract and spray them into the air. Fluid-filled respiratory droplets can land on another person or on objects that may be subsequently touched.
  • Inhalation: As noted, germs can survive within microscopic aerosolized particles that linger in the air. People can inhale the particles and become infected.

The transmission of germs is common within school settings, however, practicing preventative measures can significantly help reduce the risk of infection. These safety tips can help kids to stay healthy while learning in the classroom.


Space Desks 3-6 Feet Apart

The more crowded a room is, the higher the concentration of bacteria in the environment [2]. Giving students more space to spread out in the classroom can reduce the number of bacteria present on surfaces or transmitted directly.

Respiratory droplets that contain microbes can travel different distances depending on their size. Larger droplets typically evaporate before they can travel more than 6 feet, while smaller particles may travel farther and linger in the air longer [3]. Having students sit at desks that are spaced further apart and are all facing in one direction can help limit the spread of respiratory droplets [4].


Wear Masks Inside the Classroom

Masks also help prevent respiratory droplets from landing on other people and surfaces. Wearing masks is recommended in environments where people are unable to maintain distance from each other. Increasing evidence shows that face coverings reduce the spread of infectious diseases [5].

Try to help children understand the importance of mask-wearing as well as how to wear masks correctly. Masks should cover the mouth and nose while making sure the child is able to breathe easily. Also, teach children to wash their hands before removing the mask [6].

Certain students, such as those who are younger, have asthma, or have special needs, may have difficulty wearing a mask [4]. In these situations, have children prioritize wearing a mask during times when social distancing is not possible. It is important to ask a healthcare provider for advice [7].


Clean and Disinfect High-Contact Surfaces

In efforts to minimize germ transmission via indirect contact, schools should establish protocols to regularly disinfect surfaces that students touch regularly, such as desks, door handles, and drinking fountains. High-contact surfaces and objects should be cleaned with soap and water to physically remove germs and be treated with a disinfectant in order to kill germs. Teachers should look for disinfectants that are EPA-approved to kill microbes or use disinfectant solutions that contain either bleach or 70% alcohol. Verify that disinfectants are safe to use around children and ensure that they are stored out of reach. Cleaning routines should be completed at least daily, or more often for frequently touched surfaces [8].

Students should use their own supplies and toys whenever possible, rather than sharing them with the class. In situations where this is not possible, switching to easy-to-disinfect items, having individual students or groups of students use items one at a time, and establishing regular cleaning protocols can help reduce the spread of germs [4]. Parents can assist by making sure the classroom is stocked with appropriate cleaning supplies and by providing their children with their own supplies.

In addition to disinfecting surfaces and supplies, parents, teachers, and students should regularly disinfect cell phones and other frequently handled technology. One recent study out of the University of Arizona showed that cell phones carry ten times more bacteria than most toilet seats[9]. When disinfecting technology, such as phones, check with the device manufacturer for recommended cleaning practices. Popular recommendations include adding a disinfectant solution to a cloth before wiping all surfaces. Stay away from liquid or spray cleaners, which can cause damage.


Wash Hands Frequently

Research shows that when hand washing programs are implemented for children, they are less likely to get diseases such as diarrhea, pink eye, and respiratory infections, and have fewer absences from school [10,11]. Teaching children how to wash hands at an early age also made them more likely to reach developmental goals [12].

While at school, teachers and students should be encouraged to wash their hands regularly. Children should wash their hands before eating, after using the bathroom, after coughing or sneezing, and before touching their face. Hands should be scrubbed for at least 20 seconds. One method to ensure children are washing their hands for enough time is to teach them to sing the “Happy Birthday” song twice as they lather up. Older children such as middle school or high school students can also be encouraged to use hand sanitizer that is made of at least 60% alcohol [13].

Schools should encourage handwashing and can do so with signs and pictures that explain hand-washing procedures using age-appropriate language. Schools can also broadcast hand-washing reminders on the PA system [4].


Eat Lunch Outside or at the Desk

The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) recommends having children eat meals in locations where they can maintain distance [4]. It may be easier to keep space between students while outside or sitting at spread-out desks rather than eating in a cafeteria. Encourage students not to share their food or utensils with others to minimize the spread of germs. Having children bring food from home may help limit their contact with microbes.


Keep the Classroom Ventilated

Ventilation is important for reducing the spread of infectious germs. Upgrading HVAC systems in buildings may help but is not always feasible. If it is safe to do so, having students gather outside helps limit germ transmission. Opening classroom windows and doors and placing fans near windows helps improve air quality. Using portable air filtration systems with HEPA filters can also help remove airborne particles from the space [4].


Have Teachers Change Classrooms Instead of Students

Keeping the same group of students together in cohorts or pods can reduce disease risk [14]. In some cases, the same teacher may stay with the same students all day, while in others, teachers may switch between different cohorts of students.

Academic cohorts have several advantages. This practice limits how many people students come into contact with throughout a given day, reducing the chance of transmission. It also helps limit the number of surfaces that each person touches.

Staying in cohorts is easier for children in elementary school. For older children, block scheduling and dividing up students by grade may help limit contact between groups [14].


Decolonize Your Nose

Decontamination, distancing, hand hygiene, and other protective measures can help reduce the risk of infection; however, the nose is a hot spot for germs and often goes unaddressed. Many types of germs can enter and colonize the nose [15]. Decolonizing the nose can help reduce potentially harmful germs. Studies show that Nozin® Nasal Sanitizer® antiseptic kills 99.99% of germs and works up to 12 hours. It can be an important tool to help reduce germ transmission [16]. Used in hundreds of hospitals, and backed by hospital clinical studies, Nozin® Nasal Sanitizer® is safe for daily use and is recommended by health professionals to be part of routine hygiene practice. Children under 12 should be supervised in use. For use with children under 2 please consult a physician. Please remember to read all directions prior to use.



Transmission of germs is an important concern as children go off to school and come into contact with people. To help reduce the risk of infection, it is important to be aware of various recommended infection prevention measures. Some evidence-based protective measures include maintaining distance, wearing masks, washing/sanitizing hands, and decolonizing the nose. For specific questions on these techniques and other ways to help reduce the spread of germs, please contact a healthcare professional.



  1. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. How Infections Spread. Last reviewed 2016 January 7.
  2. Fujiyoshi S, Tanaka D, Maruyama F. Transmission of Airborne Bacteria across Built Environments and Its Measurement Standards: A Review. Front Microbiol. 2017;8:2336. Published 2017 Nov 29. doi:10.3389/fmicb.2017.02336
  3. Dhand R, Li J. Coughs and Sneezes: Their Role in Transmission of Respiratory Viral Infections, Including SARS-CoV-2. Am J Respir Crit Care Med. 2020;202(5):651-659. doi:10.1164/rccm.202004-1263PP
  4. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. Operating Schools During COVID-19: CDC’s Considerations. Updated 2020 September 1.
  5. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. Considerations for Wearing Masks. Updated 2020 August 7.
  6. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. How to Wear Masks. Updated 2020 August 7.
  7. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. Considerations for Wearing Masks. Updated 2020 August 7.
  8. CDCReopening: Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. Reopening Guidance for Cleaning and Disinfecting Public Spaces, Workplaces, Businesses, Schools, and Homes. Updated 2020 May 7.
  9. University of Arizona. Why your cellphone has more germs than a toilet. Published 2012 Sept 1.
  10. Talaat M, Afifi S, Dueger E, et al. Effects of hand hygiene campaigns on incidence of laboratory-confirmed influenza and absenteeism in schoolchildren, Cairo, Egypt. Emerg Infect Dis. 2011;17(4):619-625. doi:10.3201/eid1704.101353
  11. Wang Z, Lapinski M, Quilliam E, Jaykus LA, Fraser A. The effect of hand-hygiene interventions on infectious disease-associated absenteeism in elementary schools: A systematic literature review. Am J Infect Control. 2017;45(6):682-689. doi:10.1016/j.ajic.2017.01.018
  12. Bowen A, Agboatwalla M, Luby S, Tobery T, Ayers T, Hoekstra RM. Association between intensive handwashing promotion and child development in Karachi, Pakistan: a cluster randomized controlled trial. Arch Pediatr Adolesc Med. 2012;166(11):1037-1044. doi:10.1001/archpediatrics.2012.1181
  13. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. When and How to Wash Your Hands. Reviewed 2020 August 17.
  14. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. Preparing K-12 School Administrators for a Safe Return to School in Fall 2020. Updated 2020 August 26.
  15. Kumpitsch C, Koskinen K, Schöpf V, Moissl-Eichinger C. The microbiome of the upper respiratory tract in health and disease. BMC Biol. 2019;17(1):87. Published 2019 Nov 7. doi:10.1186/s12915-019-0703-z
  16. Steed LL, Costello J, Lohia S, Jones T, Spannhake EW, Nguyen S. . Am J Infect Control. 2014;42(8):841-846. doi:10.1016/j.ajic.2014.04.008




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