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Cleaning guidance in the era of COVID-19: A three-tier strategy + Q&A

Proper sanitation in child care settings has never been more important than during the COVID-19 pandemic. While cleaning frequently used surfaces like tables, chairs, cribs and sleeping mats is already part of everyday operations, daily sanitization of items like toys, games and activity supplies may present logistical challenges. 

Current recommendations from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) outline the need for more frequent cleaning of items each day after their use as one of the primary ways to curb the spread of the virus.

Licensed child care providers are also responsible for following all guidance from the Oklahoma Department of Human Services (DHS) in regard to cleaning standards. Requirements currently state that staff must use “an appropriate cleaner, sanitizer or disinfectant for the task. For sanitizing and disinfecting, only a sanitizer or disinfectant with an Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) registration number or household bleach is used.” Always make a freshly diluted bleach solution each day, per DHS guidelines.

Follow this three-tier approach for sanitizing items frequently found in child care settings.

As a general rule, surfaces used during the day should be sanitized during clean-up after their use as part of regular maintenance. Items shared by multiple children or staffers can be considered on a case-by-case basis but increased sanitation between uses is encouraged. Staffers should wear gloves while cleaning and avoid touching their faces during the process, according to CDC recommendations. Vigorous handwashing should follow cleaning routines, even when gloves are used. 

Daily use objects: Surfaces and items in frequent use should be sprayed and wiped down each day. 

  • Create a cleaning routine that includes daily sanitization of restrooms and kitchen areas, including high-touch surfaces like tables, counters, lightswitches and door knobs. 

  • Wash dishes the same day they are used, preferably in a dishwasher with a high temperature option. 

  • Launder cloth items like bedding and towels on a daily basis; dry all items in an electric dryer and let the cycle finish to prevent humidity where bacteria can otherwise thrive.

Toys and supplies used during guided play: Colorfast plastic and wooden toys should be wiped down between use by multiple children when possible. 

  • If it is not feasible to clean an item immediately, a bin labeled “Dirty” or “To be Cleaned” can help eliminate issues with individual toys, play food items, game pieces, counting manipulatives, etc. 

  • Disinfectant wipes can also be used to clean art supplies like markers, paintbrushes and easels. 

  • The object should remain wet for at least 10 seconds after using a disinfecting wipe and allowed to air dry. Rinse off bleach or other cleaning solutions after five minutes or the time indicated per the product’s label. 

Items used occasionally: If an item has not been touched, used or played with in between routine cleaning cycles, it does not need to be cleaned. Items used only occasionally should be cleaned after their use and follow the center’s standard to put items away clean. 

Q. What should I do with items that cannot be cleaned easily?

A. Items that cannot be cleaned should be set aside. Books, board games and other paper items that would be ruined by liquid cleaners will no longer harbor traces of the Coronavirus after 24 to 48 hours of separation in a “quarantine space” away from general use. 

  • The American Library Association does not recommend setting books out in the sun, as UV rays will not penetrate all areas of the book and will fade its pages. Microwaving books is also discouraged, as it will only result in damage.

  • Electronic toys can often still be wiped down with a disinfectant wipe. 

  • Check the labels of plush toys to see if they can be laundered or may simply need to be dried in an electric dryer instead of going through a wash cycle. Using a garment steamer or hair dryer may be an acceptable option depending on the item.

Q. Can I use products that are considered natural alternatives like essential oils, vinegar or homemade cleaning solutions as a substitute for bleach or EPA-registered products?

A. Lab testing has not proven the efficacy of these alternatives and therefore cannot substitute approved cleaning substances in child care settings. Hot, soapy water is considered a more effective alternative if disinfectant wipes or a bleach solution are not appropriate for the specific item.

Q. Where can I find more guidance on cleaning routines and sanitizing specific items?

A. The Centers for Disease and Prevention (CDC)’s guidelines for cleaning shared spaces can be found here for more information.


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