A brief overview:
The Government has stated that its policy towards COVID-19 will be “science led and driven”. The World Health Organisation has stated that “respiratory secretions or droplets expelled by infected individuals can contaminate surfaces and objects, creating fomites (contaminated surfaces). Viable SARS-CoV-2 virus can be found on those surfaces for periods ranging from hours to days”.
The latest research from Australia’s national science agency CSIRO found the virus was “extremely robust,” surviving for 28 days on surfaces when kept at 20C (68F), which is about room temperature. The Report (click here to view) concludes that this data should be considered in strategies designed to mitigate the risk of fomite transmission during the current pandemic response. CSIRO chief executive Dr Larry Marshall said “establishing how long the virus really remains viable on surfaces enables us to more accurately predict and mitigate its spread, and do a better job of protecting our people.”
The current UK Government requirements of enhanced cleaning on key touch points does not come close to providing proper protection, often only conducted a few times a day and reliant on others remembering to do it. The high-risk areas are crowded indoor environments and poorly ventilated areas. We already know from other sectors that some of the most contaminated areas on large sites are the walls in corridors and staircases. These are not categorised as touch points, therefore not cleaned regularly. This is a big mistake and a huge flaw in the current plans to reopen safely. When an infected person coughs or sneezes onto these surfaces the virus remains active for up to three days. As people pass each other they brush up against and touch these surfaces contaminating themselves, spreading the virus further. As the sector attempts to fully reopen we are already seeing evidence of this danger. Unless this flaw is urgently addressed we are potentially heading for an avoidable disaster. With such a high concentration of people, social distancing and the wearing of face masks will be hard to maintain and enforce, large education sites will quickly become contaminated and infection rates will rise. This not only poses a risk to teachers, students and staff but also the wider community. As more people become infected or even just have their clothes and school bags contaminated, they will take the virus off site with them. Many have to use public transport, further increasing transmissions and putting other commuters at risk. For Primary and Secondary schools, as more parents return to work, the burden of childcare will inevitably fall back onto elderly relatives who are of course in the high-risk category. For this reason, the Department of Education not only has a moral and legal duty of care to protect all those on site, but also the wider community.
Conventional cleaning of all surfaces was deemed to be both time and cost prohibitive. As contaminated surface contacts are considered to be a lower risk than direct airborne inhalation, a compromise was reached to just focus on high traffic key touch points. With a recent report from SAGE suggesting as many as 85,000 people could die this winter from COVID-19, this compromise is no longer acceptable.
The current data measuring the percentage ratio between airborne and surface transmission routes is limited. This is due to the fact that every human interaction with an infected person, and any surface area that they have contaminated is different. Creating a unified working model to predict that ratio will be almost impossible. As the Government’s stated objective is to reduce all transmission routes, raising the level of protection from “enhanced cleaning of key touch points” to the level of Total Surface Protection achieves this, it should now form part of a layered approach to tackling the problem.
Surface contamination and transmission is a fact. In a recent TV broadcast Sir Patrick Vallance the Government Chief Scientific Adviser reminded people that “COVID-19 is spread through surface contacts”. Everything that can be done to reduce surface contact must be enacted now to curve the spread of the virus. New evidence proves that long-lasting antimicrobial compound solutions are effective against Coronavirus. These can be applied onto almost all surfaces including tables, desks, chairs, door handles, walls and even fabrics, creating an antivirus coating and a Total Surface Protection solution. Is the Government going to procrastinate until scientists can discern the exact percentage point probability of reduced infection rates, or are they going to take clear swift decisive action now and mandate this for the sector?
With the recent publication of the Great Barrington Declaration, there is speculation that the Government might be considering this as a plan of action. The strategy would effectively allow students to become infected in the hope of building up heard immunity for the benefit of the wider community.
Sir David King, former UK Government Chief Scientific Adviser and Chair of Independent SAGE highlighted the dangers of this approach in a Report entitled: A deliberate “population immunity” strategy before a vaccine: Why it wouldn’t work and why it shouldn’t be tried.(click here to view). Other leading UK scientists have also criticised this approach in an open letter (click here to view).
Even if the Government is considering this as a strategy, it relies on students being healthy, having an antimicrobial barrier in place will help achieve this by reducing other harmful bacteria and microbes. It will also provide teachers with the highest level of Total Surface Protection.
Professor Jonathan Van-Tam, Deputy Chief Medical Officer explained that the focus needs to be on reducing the “I” rate, at present the highest level is between the ages of 16–29, which than acts as a conduit to the older age groups which are of course in the higher-risk category. The highest concentration of young people is found in the education sector. Focusing attention on this will result in lowing the “I” rate and preventing it from reaching the higher age groups.
The virus is spread through droplets, airborne inhalation and surface contacts. Total Surface Protection will help to remove one of the three ways it can be spread. It does not rely on staff remembering to constantly clean these surfaces. One application provides months of Total Surface Protection, saving time and money. In addition, it is also effective against influenza, with the winter Flu season fast approaching and a COVID-19 vaccination not likely to be available until sometime next year. This solution will provide an added layer of protection that will bridge this gap and help to keep people safe through the high-risk winter period.
This will reassure reluctant teachers, students and staff that it is safe to return, helping to kickstart the wider economy. It also has the potential to prevent the need for secondary closures. This will help to uphold the reputation of educational sites, as well as protecting them from litigation should a case of negligence arise against them due to infections. It also has the potential to safely fast track the normalisation of the sector, which will help universities recruit new students and see them return to profit.
Teachers and students are already calling for this. As the decision to reopen the sector is aligned with the Government plans to open the wider economy, many feel the least they can do is ensure that they have the highest level of protection available. Students at universities are already angry at the fees they have spent, and deserve to safely enjoy the education they have paid for. The current plans are clearly not working, with new lockdowns being put into place and further outbreaks being reported daily. The Education Secretary Gavin Williamson has stated in an open letter to parents that the Tier 2 Rota System, will only be initiated after “all other measures have been exhausted”. Therefore, our proposed measure of Total Surface Protection must be implemented now.
To their credit, some education sites are already taking the initiative and opting to have this deployed, as it will reduce infection rates and save lives. If the Government wants to claim that everything is being done, the level of protection has to be raised to Total Surface Protection for all education sites.