As Illinois and other states ease stay-at-home restrictions, workers are preparing to return to their offices. And an army of janitors and cleaning professionals is preparing those offices for their return.
Though it’s not a substitute for face masks and social distancing to limit the spread of the coronavirus, which largely is spread by breathing in virus-carrying droplets from an infected person’s breath, businesses are promising a deep cleaning before reopening their offices and businesses.
Ogbonnaya Omenka, a public health expert and assistant professor at Butler University, says that ideally deep cleaning involves cleaning and disinfecting. It involves specialized teams equipped with appropriate gear, including masks, PPE and even hazmat suits. And it can require virucides — chemicals capable of killing a virus — and fogging equipment.
Deep cleaning also should involve protecting everyone — employees of a business and the cleaners — from the virus, Omenka says.
“If proper measures are taken, the cleaners should be protected from the infection while preventing its spread,” he says.
It’s not just office spaces getting the deep-clean treatment. It happens after closing at many grocery stores. New York’s subways are being disinfected overnight. Schools across the nation are planning deep cleans as students stagger schedules to return to instruction. Medical and dental offices are getting them done to protect their patients.
Federal health officials have prepared a battery of guidelines. The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention provides a list of best practices for preventing the spread of COVID-19. The Environmental Protection Agency has listed more than 300 cleaning products that are safe for humans but effective disinfectants against COVID-19.
“It’s virgin territory for everyone,” says Brad Rush, owner of Jan-Pro of Atlanta, whose employees clean buildings from offices to fitness centers, schools and stores. “We apply our expertise but adhere to the federal guidelines. The CDC, the EPA — they bring immediate credibility. People are so fearful. Part of our job is to make them feel safe.”
The products that have been vetted have shown their effectiveness against viruses similar to COVID-19V-2 and other, harder-to-kill viruses, Omenka said. The products do not guarantee the disappearance of the coronavirus, he added, but they can “help to reduce the chances of its transmission, especially from surfaces that people frequently make contact with.”
Melissa Nolan, an infectious diseases expert and professor at the University of South Carolina, says cleaning and disinfecting, combined with masks and regular hand-washing, should make offices safer.
“Regular and frequent use of these disinfectants combined with other public health interventions can collectively reduce the risk of viral transmission,” she says.
Commercial cleaning goes beyond the wipes you use on your kitchen counter. The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention says surfaces should first be cleaned with soap and water, then disinfected. Cleaning with soap and water reduces the amount of germs, dirt and impurities on the surface. Disinfecting kills germs on the surface.
The CDC says special attention must be given to frequently touched objects such as tables, doorknobs, light switches, handles, phones, keyboards, toilets, faucets and sinks. The guidelines say, “More frequent cleaning and disinfection may be required based on level of use.”
Surfaces and objects in public places, such as shopping carts and point-of-sale keypads, should be cleaned and disinfected before each use, the CDC says. Soft surfaces such as carpeted floor, rugs and drapes should be cleaned using soap and water or with “cleaners appropriate for use on these surfaces,” according to the agency.
Cleaning services are trying to meet the demand for disinfecting. Rush says almost 500 customers suspended routine cleaning service when the stay-at-home orders rolled out in the spring. Demand for disinfecting is roaring.
“We’ve done probably 500 jobs in the last eight weeks, exponentially more than usual,” he says. “Employers feel a responsibility to provide as safe and healthy environment as possible to their returning employees.”
Rush says workers wear protective gloves and goggles during all cleaning procedures and wear full-body suits when cleaning spaces where a COVID-19 case has been confirmed.
“They are doing yeoman’s work and can hold their heads up high,” Rush says.
Many of those who lost their jobs when office buildings across the nation went empty are anxious to get back to work despite the risks. In Framingham, Massachusetts, Zeneyda Hernandez lost her job April 5. She hopes to get called back, possibly as soon as the coming week.
“I like going to work. I like to feel useful,” Hernandez says. “I want the company to give us the tools we need to work, to protect ourselves.”
Contributing: Lorenzo Reyes
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