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Staff photo by C.B. Schmelter / Disinfectant wipes and hand sanitizers are seen in Brandon Lowry's classroom at Chattanooga School for the Arts and Sciences on Wednesday, March 11, 2020 in Chattanooga, Tenn.

Officials are taking extra precautions to prevent the spread of coronavirus on Hamilton County Schools campuses by approving a $2.1 million surface disinfectant vendor contract.

By a unanimous vote of the Board of Education, HES Facilities Management was hired to manage COVID-19 cleaning and disinfecting of school buildings districtwide. The 40-year-old Knoxville company partners with K-12 schools and higher education institutions nationwide to provide custodial, maintenance, groundskeeping and landscaping services, according to its website.

The one-year contract — good through May 2021 — will be paid for by a combination of federal coronavirus funding and savings from the general operating budget.

Tim Hensley, the school system's communications director, told the Times Free Press that the board will discuss a possible contract extension next spring.

"At that time, we have a couple of options that could include the services wrapped into the upcoming request for proposal for custodial services for next year," Hensley said by email.

As of Friday afternoon, there were 1,069 active coronavirus cases in Hamilton County and 83 people had died, including two under the age of 10.

Fifteen Hamilton County Schools employees are currently infected with the coronavirus, with one person recovering since Sept. 8. Approximately 29 students have active infections, an increase of three cases since Thursday, according to the district's tracking website.

Currently, the district is on a five-day-a-week, in-person instruction schedule at least through Sept. 25. The school schedule for Sept. 28 through Oct. 9 will be announced on Sept. 21, as the district continues making decisions on a two-week rolling basis.

 

CLEANING BENEFITS

One local doctor said while surface cleaning can help prevent the spread of coronavirus and other viruses, social distancing and wearing a mask are more beneficial.

COVID-19, which stands for coronavirus disease 2019, is caused by a virus named SARS-CoV-2.

Dr. Lisa Smith of Chattanooga told the Times Free Press the spread of SARS-CoV-2 is overwhelmingly caused by respiratory droplets.

"That's why masks work so well," Smith said by email. "Without a mask, droplets would fall on surfaces. Surface, or fomite, transmission is possible, but it takes millions and millions of particles to cause an infection, and getting enough droplets on a table then to get it on your hand and up your nose would frankly be challenging. That's droplet transmission in a nutshell."

BREAKING IT DOWN

* SARS-CoV-2 is the new coronavirus that is causing the pandemic.

* COVID-19 is the disease that you get when infected with the virus.

*A person can be infected with SARS-CoV-2, but not be infectious and spreading disease (starting as early as about 5 days after the first symptom).

* You can be infectious, but not have COVID-19 (the asymptomatic person).

Source: Dr. Lisa Smith, Medical Director, Return to Work

While surface transmission is tricky, Smith said, it can take just 15 minutes of conversation over lunch with an infectious person to catch it via respiratory droplets.

"Disinfection is a small part of the mitigation of SARS-CoV-2 spread. Physical distancing and mask use are so much more a part of lowering the risk of becoming infected," she said.

She added that funds spent by municipalities — including school districts — on disinfection "would be better used for ad campaigns, public education and mask supplies."

"Disinfection is a small part of the mitigation of SARS-CoV-2 spread. Physical distancing and mask use are so much more a part of lowering the risk of becoming infected."

Contact Monique Brand at mbrand@timesfreepress.com. Follow her on Twitter and Facebook @MoBrandNews.

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Staff photo by Troy Stolt / Custodians walk through the hall at Henry L. Barger Academy on Tuesday, Aug. 11, 2020 in Chattanooga, Tenn. As schools prepare for students to head back on Wednesday, teachers and school staff are taking special precautions to keep their students and themselves safe.
 
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