Advice on hygiene and cleaning for school grounds and equipment outdoors

This page has a series of sections, offering guidance on the hygiene and cleaning practices for school grounds and outdoor spaces.

We have used formal guidance from the World Health Organisation and the UK Government. Where possible we have included source documents or links.

Additionally, we have suggested how this will work in practice, through ideas for implementing the guidance.

We will be adding to our resources for specific Covid-19 questions, please keep an eye on our news page and sign up to our newsletter.

We recommend that all decisions are made through a risk-benefit approach – understanding that no risk can be reduced to zero, and outdoors already offers a safer place than indoors for our staff and learner at present. Any risk-benefit assessment therefore must start with a more beneficial view of outdoor spaces than indoor spaces as we consider Covid-19.

Page updated on 26th April 2021

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Key Guidance on Hygiene and Cleaning Outdoors (Covid19)

European Centre for Disease Prevention and Control (ECDC)

DOCUMENT: COVID-19 in children and the role of school settings in COVID-19 transmission

The ECDC has produced some useful guidance on the level of risk which schools present to transmission of the Covid19 virus. A summary is that transmission in schools is uncommon, compared to the adult population. You can download the document and key messages here. There is a useful summary infographic too.

 

World Health Organisation (WHO)

DOCUMENT: Q&A Considerations for the cleaning and disinfection of environmental surfaces in the context of Covid19 in non-healthcare settings

Source WHO webpage is here. There a fuller answers on this link, we summarise:

What is the guidance for the disinfection of outdoor spaces such as open markets, roads?
In outdoor spaces, large-scale spraying or fumigation in areas such as streets or open market places for the COVID-19 virus or other pathogens is not recommended.

Are public systems for disinfecting individuals such as spraying via tunnel or chambers safe to use?
No. Spraying of individuals with disinfectants (such as in a tunnel, cabinet, or chamber) is not recommended under any circumstances.

What are the recommended practices once back home after outdoor activities?
Thorough hand hygiene: washing hands with soap and water or using alcohol-based hand gel, should be performed before touching surfaces, items, pets, and people within the household environment.

Are gloves recommended for the community in public spaces to protect against COVID-19, for example when going to the grocery store supermarket?
No. The use of gloves by the public in public spaces is not a recommended or proven prevention measure.

 

DOCUMENT: Cleaning and disinfection of environmental surfaces in the context of COVID-19

Source WHO Document is here. There are fuller answers on the document, we summarise key points:

What can I use to clean items outdoors, that might get rid of Covid-19?

“Items should have a properly diluted chemical disinfectant, such as chlorine or alcohol, applied to kill any remaining microorganisms.”

Our practical advice for learning of play equipment, loose parts, games equipment etc is further down the page.

Can I spray disinfectant onto surfaces outdoors?

“Spraying or fumigation of outdoor spaces, such as streets or marketplaces, is also not recommended to kill the COVID-19 virus or other pathogens because disinfectant is inactivated by dirt and debris and it is not feasible to manually clean and remove all organic matter from such spaces. Moreover, spraying porous surfaces, such as sidewalks and unpaved walkways, would be even less effective. Even in the absence of organic matter, chemical spraying is unlikely to adequately cover all surfaces for the duration of the required contact time needed to inactivate pathogens. Furthermore, streets and sidewalks are not considered to be reservoirs of infection for COVID-19.

In addition, spraying disinfectants, even outdoors, can be harmful for human health. Spraying individuals with disinfectants (such as in a tunnel, cabinet, or chamber) is not recommended under any circumstances. This could be physically and psychologically harmful and would not reduce an infected person’s ability to spread the virus through droplets or contact. Moreover, spraying individuals with chlorine and other toxic chemicals could result in eye and skin irritation, bronchospasm due to inhalation, and gastrointestinal effects such as nausea and vomiting.”

Centre for Disease Control 

How Covid19 Spreads

COVID-19 spreads less commonly through contact with contaminated surfaces

  • Respiratory droplets can also land on surfaces and objects. It is possible that a person could get COVID-19 by touching a surface or object that has the virus on it and then touching their own mouth, nose, or eyes.
  • Spread from touching surfaces is not thought to be a common way that COVID-19 spreads

Join us in person or online for the 2021 International School Grounds Conference

Key Guidance on Hygiene and Cleaning Outdoors

HM Government (UK)

DOCUMENT: Coronavirus (COVID-19): Safer Public Places – Urban Centres and Green Spaces

This document is aimed at public spaces, covering guidance on parks, shopping areas, pavements and wider greenspace. The source HM Government document is here. There are fuller answers on the document, we have summarised below:

  • Focus on heavily trafficked areas, pinch points and hand contact points. Note in schools, early years and childcare settings you need to think about the contact points relative to the size of the child.
  • There must be access to handwashing outdoors and should be reminder signs for all to wash regularly. We would suggest routines such as hand cleaning every time you enter or leave a building.
  • Use one-way systems, all fire doors, alternative access into school grounds and similar to reduce pinch points. Additionally, use all the space you have outdoors to assist with distancing of class bubbles.

DOCUMENT: Coronavirus (COVID-19): implementing protective measures in education and childcare settings

Source HM Government Document is here. There are fuller answers on the document, we summarise key points:

  • minimising contact with individuals who are unwell by ensuring that those who have coronavirus (COVID-19) symptoms, or who have someone in their household who does, do not attend childcare settings, schools or colleges
  • cleaning hands more often than usual
  • ensuring good respiratory hygiene by promoting the ‘catch it, bin it, kill it’ approach
    cleaning frequently touched surfaces often using standard products, such as detergents and bleach
  • minimising contact and mixing by altering, as much as possible, the environment (such as classroom layout) and timetables (such as staggered break times)
  • Wearing a face covering or face mask in schools or other education settings is not recommended.

 

DOCUMENT: Safe working in education, childcare and children’s social care

Source HM Government Document is here. There are fuller answers on the document, we summarise key points:

To prevent the indirect spread of the virus from person to person, regularly clean frequently-touched surfaces, such as:

  • door handles
  • handrails
  • table tops
  • play equipment
  • toys
  • electronic devices (such as phones)
  • When cleaning, use the usual products, like detergents and bleach, as these will be very effective at getting rid of the virus on surfaces.
  • All education, childcare and children’s social care settings should follow the Public Health England (PHE) guidance on cleaning for non-healthcare settings.

 

DOCUMENT: COVID-19: cleaning in non-healthcare settings

Source HM Government Document is here. There are fuller answers on the document, we summarise key points:

  • Use household cleaners and manufacturers recommendations.
  • Do not spray cleaners. Were possible wipe with cleaner or immerse in a cleaner, leaving a damp surface behind to allow time for the cleaner to work.
  • Steam cleaning for carpets or similar surfaces is suggested.
  • Consider isolating items for 72 hours after use if they have been in contact with persons suspected of having the virus.

Again, there are practical ideas further down the page to support these.

Advice in England and Wales

You can visit the source site here.

The Outdoor Education Advisors Panel has produced up to date guidance – download the advice sheet here.

Scottish Government

DOCUMENT: Coronavirus (COVID-19): guidance on reducing the risks in schools

You can download the original document here.

This document covers many areas, including recommendations that outdoor spaces are an important element in schools, early years and childcare strategy.

A key section of this document covers hygiene and cleaning – and has links to more Scottish Government documents on the subject.

DOCUMENT: Coronavirus (COVID-19): guidance for school visits and trips

You can download the source document here.

Can I go on trips outside the school grounds?

Yes.

As per previous guidance, short local excursions which promote outdoor learning (such as a short visit to a local park or green space) can take place as long as these excursions are appropriately risk assessed. 

Schools should exercise judgement as to what constitutes a short local outdoor excursion and what constitutes a more substantial day visit. “

DOCUMENT: Scottish Advisory Panel for Outdoor Education (SAPOE) Advice

You can download the source Infographic and FAQ.

This is matching practical guidance related to the Scottish Government Advice above.

LtL has a practical guidance on outdoor learning and play

Research

DOCUMENT: Outdoor Transmission of Covid19 and Other Respiratory Viruses: A Systematic Review

Source document is here.

Question: Is outdoors safer than indoors when considering Covid19?

Indoors has 18.7x the transmission rate of outdoors.

 

Document: Rapid Scoping Review of Evidence of Outdoor Transmission of COVID-19

Source document is here.

Does being outdoors reduce Covid19 transmission?

“Available evidence of outdoor transmission of COVID-19 has been reviewed, and the context and caveats provided by the extant science and literature considered. This leads to the conclusion that the outdoor environment presents a low risk of transmission of COVID-19 due to the natural social distancing that happens through the normal conventions of personal space in everyday life.”

 

DOCUMENT: Far-UVC light efficiently and safely inactivates airborne human coronaviruses

Source document is here.

Does sunlight (UV) kill Covid19?

Far UV light does kill Covid19 quickly, but only in lab conditions. Less Far UV light reaches the earth than we might like. That said, sunny  conditions do appear to reduce the viral load significantly.

 

DOCUMENT: Detection and infectivity potential of severe acute respiratory syndrome coronavirus 2 (SARS-CoV-2) environmental contamination in isolation units and quarantine facilities

Source research document is here.

Does Covid19 on a surface (such as school play equipment) pose a threat of infection?

“Despite prolonged viability of SARS-CoV-2 under laboratory-controlled conditions, uncultivable viral contamination of inanimate surfaces might suggest low feasibility for indirect fomite transmission.”

This study was in two hospitals and a quarantine facility. Although Covid19 was found on 29 out of 55 tested surfaces, the researchers could not ‘grow’ and infection from the reduced viral load.

 

DOCUMENT: Aerosols and Surface Stability of SARS Cov.1 and Cov.2

Source research document is here.

How long does Covid19 live on various surfaces (in a lab)?

It is important to note that this study was in lab conditions. That means no UV light, rain, wind, heat/cold or other outdoor environmental conditions.

In these lab conditions, Covid19 is more stable on plastic or stainless steel surfaces, and although there were traces of viable Covid19 on these surfaces at 72 hours, the virus load was greatly reduced. The ‘half life’ (how long for half the virus load to die) of the virus on plastic was between 6 and 7 hours. Other surfaces such as cardboard, copper were much quicker.

Practical ideas for school grounds hygiene and cleaning, handwashing and equipment cleaning

Outdoors vs Indoors

Noting the research above about outdoors being 18.7 times safer than indoors, we are starting from an ‘outdoors is safer’ standpoint.

Common touch points such as door handles, plastic and steel surfaces indoors, or equipment passed around outdoors are the concern when outdoors.

Handwashing in school grounds

handwashing school grounds

For temporary handwashing stations, we suggest visiting this blog post by Juliet Robertson of Creative Star Learning. Although aimed at Early years and for temporary installations, it offers good ideas.

Handwashing outdoors will be a permanent issue outdoors. The main challenge here is the number of handwashing stations needed, access by multiple class bubbles and protection from weather. We recommend looking for full sink and soap solutions, attached to buildings in multiple locations and likely with a cover.

Note that many European schools and early years settings have cleaning areas at entrances, this area being in an Estonian Nursery. They had washing machines in a drying area behind this area as well, ideal for washing waterproofs.

 

Washing loose parts play and sports equipment

Do read the research above – the message is clear that handwashing and physical distancing is the most important element in reducing transmission outdoors. The cleaning of equipment and items while possible does make a minor contribution to the reduction in transmission.

Remember that sunlight, rain, wind and time all degrade the virus. Leaving items outdoors is safer than packing away each night.

Wiping, immersion, steam cleaning or exclusion of the items are the recommended processes for cleaning of play equipment, sports equipment, clipboards or loose parts.

Cleaning with a cloth is the same protocol as indoors, where desks, handles, seats etc will be wiped down with a suitable dilution of a cleaning fluid.

‘Hard to clean’ items can be fully immersed and hung to dry. Outdoor centres typically use a large blue barrel or sink, filled with a suitable dilution of a cleaning fluid. These are items such as ropes, hoops, tennis balls, fabric, sticks and more.

With some thought, surprising things can be cleaned reasonably well. LtL has used Disinfecting Fluid (e.g. Milton) to clean mouldy sand before, applied by watering can and left to the air and sunlight for example.

We at LtL have moved to a 24-hour isolation of equipment, taking into account the research above.

 

Should I clean outdoor spaces or fixed outdoor equipment at all?

In line with the research and guidance from Government’s above, there is a recognition that full cleaning is not possible, or needed, when outdoors in public spaces.

The majority of effort should remain focused on handwashing and physical distancing.

 

Where does risk benefit fit in?

Here at LtL, in line with national guidance, we use a risk benefit system. 

We suggest that you also use such an approach when considering your Covid19 protocols and strategy. Consider how much safer outdoors is and the key message over control measures such as handwashing. This can then be balanced against pupils increased motivation for learning and increased health and wellbeing.

Local School Nature Grants provide training and equipment to support outdoor learning and play.

Pinch-points, building entrances and bubble management

The Guidance above makes it clear that this is a significant element of protecting our learners and staff, alongside handwashing and bubble management.

Ensure that you use all areas of the school grounds for play and learning. You may well need a rotation to ensure that as many areas as possible are being used at any given time.

You should maximise as many entrances to the building as possible for pupils, taking account of their route around building and grounds. Some schools are making use of one-way systems, floor markers and reminder signs.

Queuing areas or entrances should have the handwashing available before pupils enter the building.

Chris Raven of Atkins Global has also produced a briefing sheet on organising outdoor spaces to maintain social distancing – you can download his poster here.

 

 

Final notes

Note that we will be updating this School grounds hygiene and cleaning page on a weekly basis, or if important new information is presented by World Health Organisation, HM Government or other similar body. You can help us by sending in suggestions to enquiries@ltl.org.uk

If you have specific questions, please email enquiries@ltl.org.uk.

This school grounds hygiene and cleaning page was updated on the 26th April 2021

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