SANDY, Utah (ABC4 News) – Going back-to-school during the COVID-19 pandemic will be more challenging this year for a variety of reasons, including taking the bus.
For students who depend on taking the bus to and from school, the ride will be different come this fall.
The Canyons School District is one of many who have been responding to numerous concerns from parents and bus drivers about the safety and cleanliness of busses, and for that reason, ABC4 News wanted to get a first-hand look at the COVID-19 sanitation procedures put in place.
“The buses will be cleaner than they’ve ever been before,” Jeremy Wardle, Director of Transportation, Canyons School District, told ABC4’s Brittany Johnson.
Wardle said Canyons School District has always cleaned their busses, but during the pandemic extra measures will be taken.
“We’re doing everything that we possibly can to ensure both the safety of the students and the bus driver through cleaning through training.”
The Canyons School District employs about 200 bus drivers. Each of them will be equipped with a disinfectant called ‘Aquazone’ which will be sprayed on all of the seats multiple times a day, between each route.
“It’s safe for the students. There’s no harm with this stuff,” Kevin Kelson, Custodial Grounds Coordinator, Canyons School District, said.
After the drivers spray the seats down, they are required to wipe down high touch points with a microfiber rag to remove any germs.
“Anywhere the kids are touching with their hands would be considered a high touch point,” Kelson explained.
“Are these high touch points you were talking about?” asked Johnson, as she was cleaning the handrails to the school bus during a demonstration.
“Correct,” answered Kelson.
“The time is the wiping down of everything. That does take more time, depending on how quickly the driver moves, and how full the bus was with students.”
The ABC4 News team went through the same cleaning process bus drivers will be required to follow, and it took them nine minutes to complete the process.
“Will you need more bus drivers to make up for time lost during sanitization?” asked Johnson.
“I don’t think we’ll need more bus drivers because we’re hoping that there will be enough students to take advantage of the online school option,” Wardle responded.
School busses will also undergo a deep cleaning process each night.
“At night we’ll have a different sprayer that we use that’s a hypochlorous acid and that’s a stronger disinfecting agent that the EPA has recommended in place of using harsh chemicals,” Kelson explained.
Kelson said the hypochlorous acid, which will be sprayed onto the seats and left to dry overnight, is 50-times stronger than bleach and approved for use by the United States Environmental Protection Agency.
“We will also have hand sanitizer on board for all of our students and bus drivers — anyone who gets on, it will be available. It’s an alcohol-based sanitizer that the EPA has approved. We also have our hand sanitation wipes. Every bus will have these for their disposal — for their steering wheel, if they need a quick cleanup for anything that day, they can quickly access these. We also have our hydrogen peroxide cleaner that will be in a normal spray bottle that we will provide to the busses. Hydrogen peroxide is backed by the EPA to use in place of harsh chemicals because again, we don’t want to use harsh chemicals around our students.”
Utah Governor Gary Herbert (R) issued a mask mandate for all K-12 schools this fall. The mask mandate includes school busses. All K-12 students will be required to wear either a mask or a face shield on the school bus.
Wardle said bus drivers will also carry extra masks and “kindly ask a student to take one” if they forget their face covering at home.
Social distancing on the bus
“Anything we can do to minimize the spread as far as seating kids farther apart, having mandatory seating assignments for students, and then even sitting students in order by stop and grouping them by family if possible, to help with contact tracing and things like that,” Wardle said. “There are other things that we’re doing to limit the number of students, such as, limiting the number of space available permits for students that don’t qualify for the school bus that would normally be allowed to ride because of open seats.”
“If they (children) have any symptoms, we’re not really checking for that on the bus. We leave that up to the school. But I would recommend to the parents that if their student is showing any kind of symptoms that go along possibly with COVID-19 that they keep them at home to prevent the spread and protect the rest of the students on the bus,” Wardle said.
To read Canyon School District’s ‘Back-to-school Action Plan,’ click here.