The Kamloops-Thompson school district has found itself a better mousetrap in the fight against COVID-19.
The maintenance department has invested in new, electrostatic sprayers that can disinfect entire schools much faster than manual cleaning, which has been exhausting for custodians to date, according to operations manager Allen Blohm.
The school district has been impressed with the results, having put three units to the test over a weekend in mid-October. The sprayers were used at NorKam secondary — the largest school in the district — finishing building-wide disinfecting in about eight hours — something that would have taken a week by hand.
“It’s seven times faster,” Blohm told KTW.
The decreased cleaning time could be a game changer for the district because in the event of an outbreak of COVID-19 in a school, custodians will be able to disinfect the building overnight if need be so it doesn’t have to close down.
On Wednesday (Oct. 28), the school district held a demonstration for local news media in the gymnasium of its distributed learning school in Sahali — the former Pineridge elementary — showing how the new equipment works.
Consisting of a spray gun with an attached backpack of sanitizer, custodians will be trained to use the electrostatic sprayers for nightly use on evening shifts, disinfecting high-touch surfaces such as desks, tables, door handles, chairs and lockers.
An electrostatic sprayer adds a negative molecule charge to the disinfectant being sprayed, making it cling to all positive-charged surfaces and slowing down the evaporation time so the spray has a longer contact time.
It holds the disinfectant for 10 minutes before evaporation — a few minutes longer than traditional pump sprays, making the cleaner more effective, Blohm said.
The school district uses two disinfectants approved by Health Canada that can be effective against SARS-COV-2, the coronavirus that causes COVID-19.
The machines will allow the sanitizer to envelop what it touches, wrapping around the underside of objects such as tables so custodians don’t have to go under them to spray. The droplets can also be dialled down to 110 micrograms, meaning they can even spray paper without causing moisture damage.
The school district ordered 57 of the battery-powered units that are expected to arrive in a month. The sprayers cost $123,000 total — about $2,200 each — and are funded by a federal grant supporting safe return to schools. There will be one placed in every school and two in the largest facilities.
Another 150 respirators are also on order and expected to arrive soon for custodians to use with the sprayers.
Blohm believes the new equipment will give parents more peace of mind as their children are back in school. Given the added cleaning requirements under COVID-19, the sprayers will speed up that process and give custodians more time to devote to lower priorities.
“We need our custodians shovelling snow, cleaning walkways and doing the mop-up with the wet weather we’re having and, right now, we don’t have the time to get everything done,” he said.
Custodians have been wiping down high-touch surfaces for weeks by hand since classes resumed for the 2020-2021 school year amidst the pandemic, and it became apparent they needed a more efficient way, so the equipment request was taken to the board, Blohm told KTW.
To date, there hasn’t been a confirmed case of COVID-19 reported in the Kamloops-Thompson school district. While Blohm said that may be due to the virus not being as prevalent in Kamloops as it is in other areas, maintenance staff want to ensure school buildings remain safe.
Demonstrators on Wednesday wore gloves, respirator masks and eyewear to protect themselves from breathing in any sanitizer or getting it in their eyes. Blohm said this is because the negative charge makes any sanitizer in the air attracted to the user’s clothing. The gloves will also help as custodians’ hands will be close to the nozzle, which holds an electric charge.