by Randall Hatfield, staff writer
SEPTEMBER 2022 — Sanitation and cleanliness has always been a topic of concern in schools. Throughout the pandemic, Bio-Med encouraged students and staff to partake in sanitization measures like desk-wiping, but how effective and consistent are these measures, and are any surfaces within the school being neglected?
The Hive conducted an experiment throughout the Bio-Med Science Academy Rootstown campus to see where the building’s bacteria may reside. Commonly touched surfaces where bacteria may gather, like the stair railings, the slide, the soap dispenser, and microwave were swabbed for growth and examination.
The Hive found a diverse range of bacterial growth quantities on building surfaces. Some displayed significant growth, while others maintained a relatively sparse growth plate.
Though sanitization measures are still recommended, freshmen Wyatt Bartholomew and Madelynn Cross stated that they rarely wiped down their desks after class.
“[Teachers] do not have us do that [anymore],“ Bartholomew told The Hive.
A possible explanation for the decline in cleaning could be that, as pandemic fears eased, wiping desks began to fade from the minds of students and staff, and the practice became less frequent, leaving bacterial colonies an opportunity to redistribute themselves throughout the building.
A Yale University study demonstrated that bacterial growth on desks in three grade 7-12 schools completely regrew within around two days if not sanitized consistently. The study also verified that the majority of bacteria on the desks were sourced from humans, most likely the students sitting there. The fast regrowth could lead to an increase in bacteria transmission between school surfaces in-between cleanings.
If commonly touched spaces harbor a large number of bacteria growth, it could become easier for students to pick them up from that space and transfer the bacteria to other areas. This transference could also dull the effect of surface cleaners, by enabling rapid reintroduction and regrowth after disinfection.
Results of the Slide Sample
The slide was installed in the building during its 2020 expansion and serves the student community as an alternative to taking the stairs down between floors.
“That’s a bunch of kids’ butts,” stated Cross about the growth on the slide plate.
The plate incubated a large colony of bacteria within a few days of its samples being taken, quickly generating bacterial colonies and bringing the amount of bacteria on the slide into question.
“I don’t think many people clean that, because it would be hard to clean,” Bartholomew said as he observed the plate. “You’d have to stand on the steps or something.”
Because the slide is so frequently used, students who go down it may bring its microorganisms with them, further spreading bacterial growth throughout the building and onto more surfaces.
Results of the Microwave Sample
The cafeteria microwave demonstrated a large amount of bacterial growth.
After seeing the sample results, Bartholomew stated, “I think the microwave should be a lot cleaner. I don’t use the microwave, and I think they should get new ones, because they don’t work as well as they used to.”
In regards to the sample, Elissa Fusco, the 11th grade Biomedical Engineering teacher remarked, “This [bacteria]…might be filamentous. That might be why it gave you a different color than the other [plates].”
“Filamentous [bacteria] looks almost very hairlike,” She detailed. “[They] are kind of hard to find, because what they’ll do is just merge together and form this lawn, but you have a little bit that you can see on the very edges.”
Bacterial “lawns” are large masses of bacterial growth, caused by one or more bacterial colonies growing to cover an entire growth plate in a sort of bacterial mat.
The large amount of growth on the microwave may be a result of filamentous bacteria’s tendency to quickly form bacterial lawns, though the species and source are unknown.
Results of the Stairwell Sample
The building’s main stair railing, another location swabbed for the experiment, is an integral part of its infrastructure, often used by Bio-Med students coming up and down daily.
“I would have thought there was more,” Bartholomew stated about the railing sample. “The janitor [cleans] it after school. I think I’ve seen him do it a few times.”
“I [use the stairs] every day, actually,” senior Sarah Bungard said. “Maybe even four times a day…. I come down for lunch time, and then I go back up for class again.”
As a senior, Bungard has “open campus” privileges, meaning she can leave the building during periods where she does not have a class.
When asked about how many people she encounters on the stairs, Bungard recalled, “That depends on the day. In the morning, it’s usually a good amount depending on what time I come in…. Sometimes it’s very aggressive, and there [are] a lot of people.”
Bungard continued, “I personally do not [use the railings] usually, because I have a feeling that they are gross. I do not pay that much attention to what other people do, but I’d say I don’t see people using them that much.”
Observing the plate shows a relatively low amount of growth. Due to the railing’s cleanings, it is possible that the bacteria found was residually left over from students entering the building in the morning, and may have been disinfected during routine maintenance.
Results of the Soap Dispenser Sample
Another area swabbed, the fourth floor soap dispenser, is frequently touched by students going into and coming out from the nearby restroom. Despite its frequent use, the sample showed a lack of visible bacterial growth.
Fusco explained her thoughts on the lack of growth on the soap sample, stating, “If you had any soap antibiotics — I’m not sure if that’s antibacterial soap, I think that it is — if you got any residue on that, that could’ve potentially killed off your samples.” Soap residue may have been transferred to the surface during normal student hand-washing, preventing growth.
The fourth floor restrooms use GOJO Green Certified foam hand cleaner. The product’s description reads, “Kills germs on hands while providing a rich, luxurious lather,” further supporting Fusco’s claims, and providing an explanation for the cleanliness of the plate.
This type of soap could reduce the amount of bacteria on student hands, lowering the probability of microbial transfer from student hands to school surfaces.
The results of The Hive’s overall experiment could have been affected by several factors, including the time and method of incubation.
“It probably would’ve been good to check [the growth] every day,” Fusco reflected about the experiment’s methods, “The moment you put it in, check the same time the day after, and then the day after that… eventually, because of how basic that luria broth agar is, you’re just going to end up getting a bacterial lawn. You might just have one dominant bacteria take over the whole thing.”
A bacterial lawn is the term for a dense growth of bacteria, similar to the colonies present in the slide and microwave samples. It can form when a bacteria is present in large quantities, or possesses qualities that enable it to grow quickly.
Bio-Med senior Olivia Opritza and a few of her peers conducted an experiment similar to The Hive’s two years ago for a sophomore research project.
Opritza explained, “We went to each campus at Bio-Med and swabbed door knobs, two in each building to look at how much bacteria was growing in each building and if that correlated with the number of COVID cases in each building.”
Recalling the results, she said, “We realized that there wasn’t much of a correlation between the different buildings and their bacteria levels, and then that didn’t correlate with their COVID cases. There was just a large amount of bacteria in their petri dishes.”
“I think [sanitation] has been getting worse as the pandemic has been progressing,” Opritza added. “People have been a lot more lax with how they sanitize desks, and it’s definitely not as clean as it used to be.”
Disinfecting regularly, especially in areas that are often overlooked could be key to preventing the overgrowth and spread of bacteria throughout the building.
Another study demonstrated that different antibacterial cleaners could have different effects on bacteria growth. The National High School Journal of Science tested the use of nine different antibacterial cleaners on school surfaces over the course of two years. The results demonstrated that out of the nine products tested, those containing bleach and ammonium compounds were the most consistent at eliminating bacteria.
The cleaning sprays that Bio-Med uses are bleach-based, likely meaning that the cause of the growth is an issue in the frequency of cleaning and not the product used.
Still, despite the effectiveness of the cleaner, bacteria can still freely propagate if areas like the slide and microwave are left untreated. While most species of bacteria are harmless to humans, ensuring consistency in sanitizing student spaces, including those which are not currently disinfected, could be an effective way to ensure the health of the Bio-Med community going forward.
Building Administrator Joe Boal did not respond to The Hive’s query.