It is hard to believe all that has happened in the past year. The COVID-19 pandemic has rocked our world in ways we never thought could happen. Now, as we all cautiously, but optimistically, plan for our post-pandemic lives, it is time to design what exactly that will look like.
One area of society that has been tried and tested like no other is our education system. Brave administrators and teachers were forced to rethink what quality learning looked like from pre-school to graduate programs, and students had to follow and adjust accordingly.
Fortunately, the opportunity for safe in-person learning is presenting itself again, and many schools are hoping to reopen their doors in the fall. However, before that can happen, it is imperative that schools and teachers are equipped with the tools they need to curb the spread of germs.
As a former educator, I know the toll a virus or illness can have on a student’s access to learning. That is why I believe it should be a top priority for the CDC, the Department of Education, and other regulatory bodies to ensure our nation’s schools are providing only safe and effective hand sanitizer products.
It is no surprise or secret that the COVID-19 pandemic skyrocketed the demand for hand sanitizer, which the CDC deems a crucial tool in curbing the spread of disease. However, as more and more people sought out hand sanitizer, the federal government had to relax certain regulations in order to get the over-the-counter product into the hands of those who needed it. Because of this, we saw a surge of new manufacturers with limited-to-no experience making and distributing the product, which brought an array of unintended consequences. While their intentions were good and noble, the minimal oversight of the product sometimes led to mishandling, mislabeling, and misleading information around hand sanitizer products.
Many of these new products have resulted in lower efficacy rates, and some are even made with toxic ingredients. In fact, a recent study of 260 bottles from 168 brands found 17 percent of the samples contained detectable levels of benzene, which has been linked to certain types of blood cancers, including leukemia.
The troubling part of these findings is that many community buildings, like schools and hospitals, have hand sanitizer dispensers that they refill with some of these dangerous or ineffective products, a practice that the CDC has warned against. That is of no fault to the staff of those buildings, but it is the responsibility of regulatory bodies to ensure that this practice doesn’t happen.
Hand sanitizer is a product that we use to keep ourselves and others safe. To learn that many companies have distributed products with insufficient ingredients is concerning, to say the least. One physician in Tucson, Arizona, said it best when he said, “Depending on the exact concentration, it may almost have the same effect as putting water on.”
Education facilities are burdened with the responsibility to keep their students and educators safe, and that includes offering hand sanitizer dispensers. What cannot happen is that in the fall, they continue to provide these poorly manufactured products. To leave students and teachers with something that, at its best, is ineffective, and at its worst, is toxic, is unacceptable.
This pandemic has cost our country so much, and we are almost on the other side. Let’s not waste this progress by turning a blind eye to something so important and so easily fixed. Our children deserve the very best; we cannot leave them even more vulnerable to diseases. The Department of Education and CDC must be vigilant in ensuring our students and teachers are given products that will keep them safe and prepared for any future outbreaks.