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It was a case of critical contamination Tuesday for fourth-graders at Greenfield School.
High-fives and handshakes created contact between dirty digits leading to an unintended transmission of an imaginary plague.
Fortunately for all of humanity, the epidemic’s exponential escalation was just an educational experiment to demonstrate just how easily germs can spread.
“I don’t think kids think very much about the fact that they touch everything,” said Bethany Kenyon, eastern region engagement coordinator for BioNetwork.
Kenyon spread Glo Germ on her own hands, then greeted a few of the students with the briefest of touches.
The children did the rest, spreading the Glo Germ from hand-to hand, hand-to-face, hand-to-desk, hand-to-pencil, hand-to-everything.
In a darkened room, Kenyon then used a blacklight to demonstrate how far and wide the Glo Germ had traveled.
“You can have it on your hands from sneezing, and then you can put it down on the table and somebody can walk by and put their hand down there, and you can have germs from their hand,” fourth-grader Mary Michael McLamb said.
Student Landyn Coolbaugh said the experiment was fun and cool.
“You get to learn more about germs and how it spreads and stuff,” Landyn said. “You need to wash your hands, and if you don’t, it will just spread everywhere.”
Kenyon then demonstrated that washing hands is a good first defense against the spread of germs and disease.
That doesn’t mean a quick rinse in cold water or a splash of antibacterial hand sanitizer. Washing with warm water and soap is best, Kenyon said.
“Say the ABCs two times or sing ‘Happy Birthday’ two times while washing hands,” Kenyon said. “And clean under your fingernails.”
Students also learned about how personal protective equipment works and how it might be used.
Students helped one another put on footies, gloves, head net, beard net, mask, goggles and a full body suit.
“Sometimes we want to protect who is inside the suit, but sometimes we want to protect what’s outside the suit from what’s inside the suit,” Kenyon said.
“The kids are learning about germs and about how they are covered in germs that would contaminate a certain environment. So then they get to put on the gown and see what it would be like to walk around in the suit and what it would be like to work in an environment where they would have to wear that suit.”
Similar suits may be used to protect people from hazardous materials but suits are also used in manufacturing processes where the products being produced cannot be contaminated by skin flakes, oil, spittle, hair, perspiration or clothing debris.
Larken Whaley was one of five students who put on all parts of the suit.
“It was really cool and it was kind of hot in it also,” Larken said. “You would have to not rip it because it looks delicate.”
BioNetwork is a life science initiative of the North Carolina Community College System, Kenyon said.
“We are focused on helping the pipeline of students into biotechnology programs and then biotechnology careers because we do have a shortage of people in this state of people going into this field,” Kenyon said.
North Carolina, Kenyon said, has more than 600 biotech companies and the state is the third in the country for biotech.
“We need more kids to go into the field. The ultimate goal is to have them get interested in biotechnology, go into programs like at the community college system and then go into jobs,” Kenyon said. “They don’t necessarily realize how much money they can make with biotechnology without having to get a graduate degree.”
Wilson County has numerous opportunities in biotech, particularly at the widespread jobs in pharmaceuticals here.
“I think a lot of these kids like where they live and they want to stay here,” said Covey Denton, science teacher at Greenfield School.
“If we’ve got growth in those industries and growth in those areas, having these kids be employable is a great thing.”