Updated 17th March 2020
We have had a number of enquiries asking whether additional control measures are required when carrying out microbiological activities in the classroom, given the situation with coronavirus.
The protocols set out by SSERC in the code of practice ‘Safety in Microbiology’ are designed to prevent infection spreading from one person to another. The control measures, if adhered to, apply equally to coronavirus.
When assessing whether or not to carry out an activity, staff should consider:
- Do we have adequate facilities to implement the control measure? (For example, access to hand-washing facilities)
- Can the pupils be trusted to implement the control measures?
We have also been asked about activities using cheek cells. The guidance for this is contained in the code of practice ‘Materials of Living Origin’. We are monitoring the situation but as yet can see no reason why this activity should not go ahead provided the guidance is followed.
For some perspective, there is as yet no case of Covid-19 that has been definitely linked to infection from a surface, so we are looking at a very small risk. It is, however, a risk and prudent precautions are a sensible idea.
Advice from Health Protection Scotland* on preventing the spread of infection includes:
- routine cleaning and disinfection of frequently touched objects and surfaces such as telephones, keyboards, door handles, desks and tables
- promoting hand hygiene
While gloves aren’t an issue as they are disposable, we have had several questions in about shared PPE, particularly eye protection.
As yet, we see no need for routine disinfection of safety goggles, and even less so for spectacle-type eye protection which has a much smaller contact with the skin. However, if a school has had a case reported then it may be prudent to put some of the measures below into operation. As the outbreak develops, this may need to become more common practice.
- Where possible, and especially if there are classes that need regular use of eye protection (AH Chemistry for instance), then if possible issue each person a set to keep and use. Particularly for students still doing Advanced Higher project work.
- The number of experiments that actually require goggles, as opposed to safety spectacles, is small and can be reduced further by making changes to some protocols: reducing concentration of acids for instance. Where this is not possible, and it is not possible to clean the goggles (as described below) it may become preferable to have a particular experiment done as a teacher demonstration, though we are not in that position yet.
- It would be best to have the goggles stockpiled in the prep room rather than sitting , sometimes underused, in each classroom. The technicians can then try to ensure that a set is disinfected before being issued and when they come back.
- At the end of each day, the eye protection can be sterilised. There are a few methods for this:
- Soak in a bucket of Virkon for 10 minutes and then rinse with running tap water allow to dry. If this is done at the end of the day, they can be left to dry overnight.
- A 1% bleach solution or a solution of Milton’s Fluid made up as per manufacturer’s instructions can be used in a similar way. This time soak for at least 15 minutes before washing and allowing to dry.
- If there is a need for goggles to be used by another class with no time for soaking, try to wipe down the part of the goggles that touches the face at least. The best thing is to use antiseptic wipes. If they say they will kill the flu virus, they’ll work for Coronavirus too. If these have been stockpiled then you can use ethanol on tissue paper or cotton wool.