Teaching Students & Staff About Hand Hygiene & PPE

October 06, 2020

As onsite healthcare professionals, school nurses understand that hand hygiene, respiratory etiquette, and PPE are three of the most important infection prevention tools available to help prevent the spread of coronavirus. Yet an online poll from January 2020 by YouGov showed that 40% of American adults don't properly wash their hands after using the bathroom, and a 2010 study by the American Society for Microbiology showed that only one in four people in public failed to cover their mouth when they coughed or sneezed. To combat this learning curve, school nurses and administrators can create a culture that promotes hand hygiene, respiratory etiquette, and PPE use in schools, helping keep everyone in the community safer during this pandemic.

Subject: Hand Hygiene
If teachers and staff aren't seen washing their hands or don't afford students the time to wash theirs, students are not going to wash their hands. So, start with the basics – teach staff and students the five steps for effective handwashing.  

Wet hands with clean, running water.

Lather hands by rubbing them together with soap.

Be sure to cover the backs of hands, between fingers, and under nails.

Do this for at least 20 seconds.

TIMER TIP: Humming or singing "Happy Birthday" twice or the alphabet song ("ABCs") once, lasts about 20 seconds.

Rinse hands well under clean, running water.

Dry hands using a clean disposable towel or air dry them.

A thorough hand hygiene program should also include hand sanitizer to help keep hands clean between handwashing opportunities. Like handwashing, there is a correct method for using hand sanitizers. This is a key lesson to include in your hand hygiene curricula because most people don't know about it.

Hand sanitizer should be rubbed over the entire surface of the hand, including the back of the hand and between fingers. Allow to dry; do not rub off. Rubbing off hand sanitizer before it dries renders it ineffective. Also, be sure to emphasize that hand sanitizer won't be as effective if hands are visibly dirty. Washing with soap and water is the preferred method for dirty hands.

Note: hand sanitizers should be monitored much closer with younger students to avoid accidental swallowing or contact with eyes.

Subject: Facemasks
One of the biggest challenges schools will encounter is consistent, correct facemask usage. Not only should facemasks be worn at all times, except while eating or drinking, they must be worn properly. 

School nurses may find the CDC's Know How to Wear Your Face Mask Correctly video helpful in instructing both teachers and students.

Facemask Facts
Whether they're store bought or made at home, masks must:

  • Cover the nose and mouth and fit snugly, but comfortably, against the sides of the face
  • Be secured with ties or ear loops
  • Have multiple layers
  • Allow for unrestricted breathing
  • Be disposable or washable 

Advise students and staff to have more than one mask at school, because they may need to change them if they become wet or otherwise compromised. Reusable masks should be laundered after use and disposable masks should be thrown out at the end of the day. When masks are removed for eating, they should be removed by the ear loops or ties, folded in half - face-side in, and placed in a plastic bag. Using hand sanitizer after removing the mask is recommended.

Subject: Respiratory Etiquette
Covering coughs and sneezes should not be overlooked just because students and staff wear facemasks. There are times when facemasks aren't worn, so proper respiratory etiquette should be taught.

  • Cover the mouth and nose with a tissue when coughing or sneezing.
  • Put the used tissue in the waste basket.
  • If a tissue isn't available, cough or sneeze into the upper sleeve or elbow, not hands.

There are "cover your cough" PDFs available for download. By downloading the PDFs and printing them in-house, they are an economical way to spread the message, not the germs.

A powerful media, video goes a long way when conveying a message. The CDC's YouTube channel has some age-appropriate videos you can use to help educate young children on respiratory etiquette. 


Considerations for Instructing Staff
Creating a positive attitude toward handwashing and facemasks begins with teachers. They, like school nurses, have seen their roles grow exponentially at this time. Providing teachers with clear, consistent instructions and messaging will be key to adaptation by students. Demonstrate proper handwashing techniques, respiratory etiquette, and facemask donning through multiple types of media:

  • Provide in-person instruction if possible.
  • Post videos on the staff section of the school's intranet.
  • Share infographics or PDFs via email or school intranet.
  • Include handwashing reminders in any emails you send to staff.
    • TIP: Create a fun handwashing tagline to include in your email signature.

Considerations for Instructing Students
To instruct students, school nurses can help develop age-appropriate curricula that they and teachers can use. Repeat these courses throughout the year to help reiterate the importance of hand hygiene, respiratory etiquette, and the wearing of facemasks. These lessons are important, including for virtual classroom settings, because prevention is paramount, even at home. 

Considerations ESL/ELL Students
ESL/ELL students are already struggling with the changes to their education because of COVID-19. Adding lessons about infection-prevention methods can add to their stress or simply get lost among the other lessons. To ensure these students receive adequate instruction: 

  • Teachers should use visual aids (posters, stickers, videos, etc.) in the students' native language(s) and check their understanding of the information.
  • Students should be reminded of these preventative measures regularly.
  • Ensure that families receive this information as well.
    • Note: several methods of communication (text, email, mail) and media (video, infographic, printout) could be necessary because of personal preference by parents and/or their level of literacy.

Considerations for Students with Disabilities/Special Health Needs
For students of all ages with disabilities and special health needs (D/SHN), using behavioral techniques can help them learn and adjust to the changes. Consider adding social stories, video modeling, picture schedules, and visual cues to your curricula for these students. Some D/SHN students will need assistance with handwashing and respiratory etiquette. This staff should use additional PPE (facemasks, face shields, gloves, and gowns) when helping these students.

Some D/SHN students may not be able to wear masks (such as those with autism, anxiety, asthma, or other physical or mental impairments). Consider other measures to help slow the spread of COVID-19, such as rearranging classrooms so that desks face one direction and not each other or placing transparent barriers between desks/students.

Armed with this information and knowledge, school nurses will be able to help keep teachers, staff, and students safer at school - and at home. If you need help finding any infection prevention items, check out our wide selection of products or call us at 877-222-2013.  

Signup for Emails!

Sign up for our email newsletter to stay up to date on the latest news, including new products and special offers.