Back in March, when COVID-19 was almost completely mysterious, I spent an insane amount of time disinfecting everything in my path. I sprayed down mail with Lysol. I scrubbed groceries clean before they crossed the threshold of our house. I sterilised every toy my son could have possibly slobbered on. It was a time-consuming, exhausting siege of sanitation.
Two weeks ago, my son returned to daycare. His school has gone to great lengths to keep him healthy and safe while he is in their care. That said, it’s hard not to recognise that every day at school is a day filled with potential exposures, and as a parent I was unclear how far off the cleaning cliff I need to drive in order to disinfect him after his day in the wild.
Do I need to strip him naked in the garage before he enters the house? Do I need to wash his clothes immediately in Earth’s warmest water? Do I need to boil everything he’s touched to near-surgery-level cleanliness? I decided to seek out an expert opinion.
Stick to the basics
According to Connie Steed, president of the Association for Professionals in Infection Control and Epidemiology, there is no need to go to the moon and back when it comes to cleanliness. Sticking to the basics will get the job done.
“Cleanliness is next to godliness, but don’t do it with the intent for COVID prevention,” Steed says. “Keep it simple — basic good hygiene to stop the transfer of germs.”
The basics include hand-washing, social distancing, face coverings, and keeping hands out of the eyes, nose, and mouth; these are the preventive measures that decrease the potential spread of any germ, not just COVID-19.
“Surfaces can get germs on them and the germs can stay there for a bit, but transfer is [mostly] occurring with respiratory droplets,” Steed says.
So rather than spending our time boiling linens, we should be exerting our efforts toward reinforcing those proven deterrents for the spread of infection.
Steed recommends helping your child understand how to properly wear a mask and why it’s important. Steed says she understands this won’t be easy, but encouragement and role-modelling good behaviour may help.
“Praise kids for wearing their mask,” she says. “Show pictures of other kids wearing masks, put their favourite stuffed animals in masks.”
Steed also suggests making masks fun by letting your child pick out a mask they would be more apt to wear. And if you do want to go overboard on cleaning something, face coverings might be the thing to go wild on.
“You need to make sure that cloth face coverings are cleaned routinely,” Steed says. “If the mask gets wet during the day — and with kids it probably will — I would say it should be washed daily. It really depends on the child. You just need to make sure it gets washed on a regular basis.”
Another pro tip from Steed: Stick with your own stuff. Be sure to label items like face coverings and water bottles to help your child easily identify items that are theirs and not someone else’s.
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Keeping tiny hands clean and off of faces will continue to be a rough road, but putting extra effort toward this challenge will be time and energy well spent, according to Steed.
“Anything that goes in their eyes, nose and mouth is a vector for any germ,” she says.
If you have a thumbsucker or a kid who likes to bite their nails, this may add another layer of difficulty, so continue being creative with ways to make hand-washing fun. While hand-washing stations should be available at school, Steed also recommends keeping hand sanitizer in your child’s backpack so they have a resource for clean hands no matter where they are in their day.
Quarantine may be over for some, but just because your child has left the house, doesn’t mean social distancing goes out the window.
“Check out the school,” Steed recommends. “See how they are dealing with kids in the classroom. Are they sufficiently apart from other people?”
Also, make sure your child is up to date on vaccinations — especially with the flu.
“We won’t be able to tell the flu and COVID apart,” Steed says. “Make sure vaccinations are up to date.”