Cleaning And COVID-19

As facilities maintenance teams move forward, the industry has learned several lessons.

By Patty Olinger
From the August 2021 Issue

We’ve come a long way since the initial days and months of the COVID-19 pandemic. We’ve learned more about the virus and how it spreads, determined how to curb incidences and the severity of symptoms through vaccinations, and executed additional measures that support infection prevention. Yet there is still a long road ahead for facilities maintenance and all stakeholders.

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Communicating precautions to take and cleaning procedures employed at a facility keeps occupants informed. Shown here, a Hyatt Hotels location features signage reminding people to stay six feet apart from each other. (Photo: Hyatt Hotels)

The Delta and other variants of the virus are resulting in rising cases and hospitalizations in North America, the United Kingdom, Portugal, Russia, and more. With facility managers juggling how to maintain safety in facilities that are currently open, approaching reopening, or remaining closed for the time being, it’s important to look back at what we’ve uncovered to determine how best to move forward.

Considerations For Cleanliness

In March 2020, many organizations sought additional guidance on proper biorisk preparation, response, and recovery to address a new threat. The Global Biorisk Advisory Council (GBAC), a Division of ISSA, fast tracked the launch of GBAC STAR™ Facility Accreditation. The accreditation means a facility has established and maintains a cleaning, disinfection, and infectious disease prevention program, has the proper protocols in place, and has a team of trained professionals to carry out those procedures.

Over the last year, thousands of facilities have earned or committed to accreditation. As a result of completing accreditation and balancing facility closures and reopenings over the last 18 months, facility managers have determined tactics that have been instrumental in upholding cleanliness and safety. These include:

Documenting procedures. Having a clear plan in place for all processes related to cleaning, disinfection, and infection prevention measures is a must. This can enhance confidence, consistency, safety, and employee morale. Processes can change as new developments arise or facilities shift occupancy limits and health and safety guidelines. It is crucial to keep facility management and cleaning professionals up to date on every adjustment that will impact the way they carry out their daily tasks so that lapses in cleanliness do not occur.

A documented plan can also help when approached by guests of the facility. For example, at The Garlands of Barrington, a Life Plan community in Illinois, staff could point to their documented protocols that were vetted by GBAC STAR when guests sought rationale for their requirements and approach to cleaning. It can also help facilities when talking with local public health officials.

Carefully vetting solutions. Whether you’re considering using a new disinfectant, piece of equipment, or hygiene solutions like hand sanitizer, don’t rush the process. Determine whether cleaning and disinfecting products meet your needs based on your risk assessment. Take into consideration your safety and sustainability goals. For instance, by undergoing accreditation, one accredited convention center learned that the disinfectants that they were using were not on the EPA’s List N. The facility was able to identify a better solution that met not only the EPA List N requirements for SARS-CoV-2, but also its sustainability goals.

Additionally, consider if the equipment you want to implement is compatible with your chemicals. Remember to check the product label. Keep in mind that some solutions are not well-suited for electrostatic sprayers. Then, carry out training to ensure a smooth transition when introducing new solutions.

Openly communicating with everyone. Effective communication is key to learning and sharing dos and don’ts. This is true whether you manage one location or numerous facilities. This might mean regularly touching base with your team of in-house professionals or your building service contractor. For example, Hyatt Hotels committed to earning accreditation at every property worldwide. They created a new role, the Hygiene and Wellness Leader, at all of their locations. During the process, Hyatt’s teams learned new training best practices that were shared across multiple properties to aid their preparedness and response.

Communicating openly with building visitors is also essential. Hyatt produced a “Know Before You Go” letter detailing expectations for event hosts and attendees, while STAPLES Center in Los Angeles placed large display signs and stickers communicating its accreditation at entry points once fans were able to return to the arena.

The Future Of Cleaning

While there are already signs suggesting that increased cleaning frequencies and long-term efforts around indoor air quality may slow down post-pandemic, the future of cleaning has forever changed. Using effective products and technologies such as electrostatic sprayers to efficiently eradicate pathogens is important, and so is the way in which facilities achieve this. Thus, it’s really about both the destination and the journey.

We must be cognizant of the products we are using and how we are using them. Cleaning professionals are increasingly being exposed to toxic chemicals that result in skin and eye irritation. Building occupants can also have sensitivities to chemicals and some ingredients may even pose a risk to the environment. Facility managers are responsible for upholding safety for employees and visitors, and are now seen as experts on what to do. After all, CEOs and other leaders now understand and value the role that cleanliness plays in their businesses.

While we are already seeing some regions lift social distancing and mask rules, relaxing these policies doesn’t signal that we can go back to the way we executed cleaning before the pandemic. For many facilities, cleaning was previously conducted out of sight of building guests. Having a well-documented, thoughtful cleaning, disinfection, and infection prevention program can help facility managers and their in-house or outsourced teams reduce the risk of infection and uphold appearance. In turn, it helps to uphold higher standards of cleanliness.

Cleanliness At Forefront

It’s important to acknowledge that there have been claims of cleaning measures for COVID-19 being simply “hygiene theater,” meaning they create a perception of safety without actually lowering risk. The reality is that cleanliness is necessary for upholding public health. At the beginning of the pandemic, experts and the public knew very little about the SARS-CoV-2 virus and how it was transmitted. Cleaning was a strategic step to both target pathogens and give occupants and visitors greater assurance about their safety in places like grocery stores, airports, hotels, and nursing homes. Plus, COVID-19 is not the only risk facility managers face. Influenza, Norovirus, MRSA, and countless other pathogens can spread among facility occupants.

With brand reputation, customer loyalty, and the bottom line potentially impacted by cleanliness, many organizations can’t risk failing to meet customer expectations. Along with cleaning, facility managers must prioritize proper disinfection and infection prevention. By considering the above recommendations that have benefited organizations across different sectors, facility managers can rest assured knowing that they are doing their best to maintain safety for everyone who walks through their buildings’ doors.

infection preventionOlinger, JM, RBP, Certified Forensic Operator®, Certified Bio-Forensic Restoration Specialist® is Executive Director for the Global Biorisk Advisory Council (GBAC), a Division of ISSA. GBAC’s services include biorisk management program assessment and training, Forensic Restoration® response and remediation, the GBAC STAR™ facility and service accreditation programs, training and certification of individuals and consulting for building owners and facility managers. Prior to joining GBAC, Olinger was an assistant vice president in the Office of Research Administration and the Executive Director of the Environmental, Health and Safety Office (EHSO) at Emory University.

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  1. This protocol provides a recommended preventive measures for workplace cleaning during a Pandemic scenario of COVID-19, and disinfecting all places. We are properly cleaning and disinfecting are important for reducing the spread of COVID-19. This fact sheet provides best practices for cleaning, sanitizing.

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