Influenza, more commonly known as the flu, is an acute respiratory infection caused by the influenza virus.
Anyone can contract influenza virus and thus be afflicted with flu any time of the year. But if you live in the United States, there’s a thing called “flu season,” where the disease typically occurs during the fall and winter months. The exact timing of the flu often varies, but it usually begins in October and reaches its peak between December and February. However, significant flu activity can last as late as May.
Like many other viral diseases, flu is highly contagious, most especially in the first 3 to 4 days. Even some healthy individuals may be able to infect others starting one day before the symptoms develop and up to 5 to 7 days after getting sick.
The significance of transportation professionals in flu season
School bus drivers and aides play a vital role in the lives of the students, parents, and their community. Their fundamental role is to transport the students and staff to and from school safely. They are also responsible for keeping their vehicles clean and functional for a safe and smooth ride.
Communicable diseases, like the flu, can be easily passed among people who share confined spaces such as classrooms and school buses, making them a notorious hotbed for pathogens like germs, bacteria, fungi, parasites, and viruses. An unclean and unsanitary school bus can introduce many sorts of contagious diseases to their schools and homes.
As a custodian of their vehicles, a school bus driver’s role in keeping clean and safe transportation is crucial. Not only does a clean and sanitary school bus provide a pleasant and positive riding experience for everyone on board, but it can also prevent the spread of diseases such as flu.
The attack of flu viruses and the duration of flu activity vary depending on various cases, and they have been even more unpredictable since the start of the COVID-19 pandemic. School bus drivers should take a more proactive approach to prevent the spread of flu viruses inside the bus and keep everyone on board as healthy as possible.
With flu becoming particularly rampant again during this season, there is a need for more stringent cleaning routines. School bus drivers are now required to clean and sanitize their vehicles from once a week to as often as several times a day.
Buses have several high-touch surfaces, where the flu viruses can survive and infect another person from 24 to 48 hours. That’s why cleaning, sanitizing, and disinfecting should be prioritized in those areas.
Since influenza is an airborne disease, turning on the HVAC vents inside the bus should be avoided to help prevent the spread of germs and viruses. But if the weather calls for their use, make sure to clean them carefully. Wipe the vents with a clean, damp cloth to remove the dust, and then spray them with a disinfectant to make them safe to use.
School bus drivers should wear personal protective equipment (PPE), such as gloves, goggles, and face masks, that will limit their exposure to pathogens and powerful disinfectant chemicals as they clean and sanitize.
Good hygiene should also be practiced when boarding and riding the bus. School buses should stock up on additional hand disinfectants (such as alcohol-based sanitizers and sanitizing wipes) for the students, drivers, and attendants. Have spare face masks as well for students who forget or lose their own. Install hand sanitizer dispensers and small touchless garbage cans.
No matter the challenges that come their way, the fundamental duty of our school transportation professionals remains the same: to ensure the safety of the students on a daily basis. They are considered essential front-line workers who have been enduring tiring working conditions that can put them at risk of accidents and illnesses. Since they are vulnerable to such risks, they should be given additional support and supplemental hazard pay, which are deemed appropriate during the flu season.
If the driver notices potential flu symptoms in any of the students on board – such as coughing, tiredness, body temperature that is higher than normal, vomiting, feelings of distress, etc. — the best thing that the bus driver should do is to consider calling for medical assistance. Additionally, the driver should report the incident to the school supervisor so that appropriate action can be taken to address the situation and to keep other students from possible exposure.
School bus drivers should also protect themselves from contracting the virus. They should lead by example by washing hands or having clean hands by the time they enter the bus, using sanitizer, wearing face masks, when applicable, to minimize the risk of exposure to themselves and the risk of infecting students.
We know how children are – depending on their age, they may lack awareness when it comes to basic hygiene. This is why properly cleaning and sanitizing the bus is vital to their safety. Failing to clean and disinfect the school bus properly can expose children and their drivers to dangerous germs, bacteria, and viruses.
Collaboration with school authorities
School bus drivers should work in tandem with school administrators to prevent the spread of flu viruses in coordination with standard health and safety measures. Drivers and school authorities must work together by knowing accurately and following the health guidelines of their school district. By being aware and following these policies, they should actively encourage children and parents to do the same.
In difficult times like seasonal flu, the role of the school bus driver in preventing the spread of flu is crucial so that students can ride to school safely and, ultimately, keep the schools open. There should be a collective effort from the drivers, school authorities, local health authorities, parents, or guardians to maintain safe and sanitary transportation.
As school bus drivers are considered essential front-liners who are at constant risk of contracting the flu virus, especially during this season, additional safety measures must be given to them aside from supplemental hazard pay as appropriate compensation for their services. Schools and school districts should continue to support school bus drivers, especially in these difficult situations, as part of their mission to protect the well-being of the students and bus staff.