We already know that many things will be different in a post-COVID-19 world. For instance, cleaning has changed forever. Building Service Contractors (BSCs) are no longer in the professional cleaning business. Astute contractors are now in the infection prevention business.
Further, the facilities we clean will be changing and changing considerably in the coming years.
In some cases, facility managers are taking steps now to help ensure the health and safety of building users before they reopen. For instance, over the past few weeks, we have heard a lot about how COVID-10 can be transmitted from one person to another by touching “high touch” surfaces. When office doors reopen, many managers want to have eliminated as many of these touchpoints as possible.
These include such things as:
Light switches and power controls. Lights will be turned on remotely or activated by sensors, which will help save energy as well.
Door handles. The goal here is to remove more than just the door handle. Sensor-controlled doors that open and close automatically, will become common place on both exterior and interior doors.
Increased use of antimicrobial materials that can be applied to surfaces or are manufactured with these agents pre-applied. These are designed to resist the growth of potentially harmful pathogens. (Please See Update on COVID and Touchpoints Below)
Additionally, many property management companies will follow Cushman Wakefield’s lead in revising workspaces. One of the largest property management companies in the world, Cushman Wakefield has already had experience addressing the pandemic. This is because it manages many properties in China that have reopened. Because of this, the company has developed what they call the “Six Feet Office.” Among the core elements of the Six Feet Office are the following:
Electronically scanning each work environment to determine where more spatial distancing is needed.
Placing desk areas, furniture, and lounges at least six feet apart.
Installing barriers and partitions between workstations.
Using flooring to “suggest” six feet spacing. For instance, installing carpet with bold circles, implying to people that the parameters of the circle represent six feet.
Reversing the trend of reducing the amount of office space allotted each employee. In 2009, employees were allocated 211.4 square feet. By 2017, that had gone down to just 18 square feet, primarily because of the “open office” work environment.
Staggering of work schedules, so fewer people are in the same office area at the same time.
Limiting the number of people in elevators.
Creating traffic flows to help reduce direct contact with other office workers. This would include “one-direction” walkways, hallways, and stairways. Staffers walking north, for instance, walk on the right-hand side of a building; staffers walking south walk on the left-hand side.
Signage that reminds staffers to maintain social distance, wear masks, etc.
Proudly providing “Six Feet Certificates.” Once a program is in place, and building users have learned to adhere to it, certificates will be posted. These are designed to assure building users that steps have been taken – and are being followed – to protect everyone’s health and safety.
All these steps may also have a significant impact on the open office concept. In many ways, this was never a healthy design model. Invariably, people were working to close together, touching the same chairs, tabletops, and many times sharing the same high-touch electronics. Even before COVID, this could be nothing less than a hotbed for disease.
Sanitation in the Post COVID Work Environment
In the post-COVID world, facility managers and BSCs will be working more closely together than ever before, to help ensure facilities stay clean and healthy.
For instance, expect BSCs to ask managers to ensure that when custodial workers clean their facilities, building users are not in the area, even if for just a few minutes. One of the problems caused by the open office concept is that staffers can come to work any day/any time. Cleaning workers often must work around these staffers, making it hard for them to do their job and clean and sanitize work areas.
Managers will want to know what types of cleaning tools and equipment their BSCs will be using to prevent the spread of infection. While proper cleaning and disinfecting practices will continue, if not be increased, we may also see greater use of what are called UV lights for disinfecting. While they can vary, in general, these systems are designed to kill or inactivate microorganisms.
We can also expect more electrostatic sprayers to be used. These have already proven immensely helpful in many school settings. Once areas have been cleaned, these systems spray (or mist) surfaces with a disinfectant. They kill germs, including those that cause COVID.
At one time, these machines were only used in emergencies, or if there were concerns about the spread of infection. Now they, and a variety of other disinfecting practices, are likely to be used on set schedules throughout the year. This will help prevent disease and protect the health of building users.
Rick VanderKoy is president of Secure Clean Building Services, based in Marengo, IL. The family-operated facility cleans schools and commercial facilities throughout the Chicago area and the state of Illinois. He can be reached at email@example.com
Update on COVID and Touchpoints
On May 27, 2020, the CDC released a clarification regarding the spread of coronavirus via surfaces. The guidelines now indicate that the virus “does not spread easily” on surfaces. However, they added, touching surfaces “is not thought to be the main way the virus spreads, but we are still learning more about how this virus spreads.”
The entire clarification has caused considerable confusion. We are advising our clients to continue to take additional steps to clean and disinfect high touch point surfaces. We know other viruses and diseases are spread through touching contaminated touch points. Because we are in a “learn as we go” situation with COVID, it is far better to be safe than sorry with this disease.
With the pandemic and all that is going on in the world right now, we may not have noticed that May was Older Americans Month (OAM). For 57 years, Older Americans Month has been a special time to recognize the achievements and accomplishments made by seniors in our country.
In the past, Older American Month has been honored with different types of events in senior and long-term care facilities. But this year, with COVID-19, few are planned. Instead, protecting the health of older Americans, the staff working in long-term care facilities, their families, and their friends is paramount.
The virus has hit long-term care facilities hard. In March 2020, it was estimated by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) that 80 percent of all deaths associated with COVID were among older Americans, people 65 and older. While the numbers have come down, it is still estimated that as many as half of the COVID deaths are among seniors, with a great deal of them living in long-term care and similar type locations.
There can be many reasons for this. Social distancing can be exceedingly difficult in these facilities. Many long-term care locations were explicitly designed to encourage interaction, to help alleviate isolation and loneliness.
Further, when the outbreak first began spreading, many long-term care locations had only a limited number of masks and other protective gear on hand. Fortunately, these and many other issues have been rectified. However, what still may be an issue in many long-term care locations is cleaning. Cleaning is vital, and without proper cleaning, this virus will continue to spread, cause infections, and with them, deaths.
Whether your cleaning is handled by in-house housekeepers, outsourced to a professional contract cleaning service, or a combination of the two, here is what administrators and cleaning staff need to know to keep themselves and older Americans healthy:
Complete a high-touch audit.
There are areas in a long-term care facility that are touched frequently by residents and staff. Some are obvious: light switches, door handles, railings, TV remote controls, the tops of chairs and handles on cabinets, etc.
But did you know floors can also be a high-touch area?
In a study at a hospital in Wuhan, China, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), reports that “floors can be a strong source of cross-contamination. Gravity and airflow cause virus droplets to fall to the ground, where medical staff pick it up and potentially tracks it throughout the facility.”
Every time a resident or a staff member touches a high-touch surface – and if that surface is contaminated – those pathogens can collect on hands, starting the spread of cross-contamination.
All staffers, and indeed all cleaning professionals, should wash their hands before beginning work and then again upon leaving. This way, they do not bring pathogens into the facility or take them home.
In most cases, cleaning and disinfecting is a two-step process. First surfaces are cleaned, and then they are disinfected. Cleaning removes soils from surfaces, allowing the disinfectant to work most effectively. We must also remember, should the disinfectant dry on the surface, then the entire process must be repeated.
Many of the standard all-purpose disinfectant wipes used in long-term care and other facilities are not E.P.A.-approved. They may kill many types of germs but not necessarily those that cause COVID. Again, check the list for EPA approved disinfectants and wipes.
One of the primary ways COVID is spread is because the germs causing the disease becomes airborne. Therefore, it is especially important to have a well-ventilated facility. If the facility is centrally heated and cooled, monitor the system to continually refresh inside air with filtered air from the outside. If the facility does not have central heating and cooling, open windows on opposite walls to help move air from inside out.
Made by different manufacturers, these misters spray a disinfecting mist or fog onto surfaces, which kills pathogens as it is applied. As the systems are used, the mist wraps around the immediate and surrounding surfaces, further enhancing its effectiveness. What we have found to be most effective is to clean some surfaces first using hypochlorous acid.
Hypochlorous acid is very safe and found in many cleaning solutions, approved for both commercial and residential use. With chlorine as one of its main ingredients, it helps clean and disinfect surfaces, allowing the electronic sprayer to work more effectively.
Mops and Buckets
In most long-term care facilities, mops and buckets are typically used to clean floors. In hospitals, the mop heads and cleaning solutions are usually changed after each room is cleaned. This helps prevent the spread of pathogens from one room to another. This same process should be followed in long-term care locations.
Microfiber cleaning cloths should be used. Microfiber is proven to be more effective at removing soils from surfaces. However, just as with mops, they should be changed frequently.
HEPA Vacuum Cleaners
More advanced vacuum cleaners have HEPA filters, and these should be used to vacuum carpet and hard surface floors in long-term care locations. Using a vacuum cleaner with a High-Efficiency Particulate Air filter, the vacuum can capture and trap potentially dangerous microbes and particles, preventing them from becoming airborne. Before COVID, this helped protect indoor air quality. Now, with COVID, these filters can help prevent the spread of the infection.
Cleaning the Cleaning Equipment
A variety of tools and equipment are used in professional cleaning. These can include floor machines, vacuum cleaners, brushes, sprayers, auto dilution devices, carts, and more. All too often, cleaning the cleaning equipment is overlooked. That cannot continue in the age of COVID. All these tools must be put on a regular cleaning schedule based on the frequency of use. This means such tools as vacuum cleaners and carts, used daily, may need to be cleaned each day, possibly after each use. Other tools may need to be cleaned less frequently, again based on their use. The two-step process mentioned earlier is required here as well: first clean the tool and then disinfect.
Training has never been more critical than it is right now. All too often, cleaning workers are not taught the latest and most efficient ways to clean. This has the following drawbacks for long-term care administrators:
First, it’s costly. Typically, teaching custodial “best practices” helps cleaning workers learn how to do their jobs more efficiently. They get more done in the shortest amount of time, which saves money.
But now, with the high rates of infections and deaths in so many long-term care facilities, proper, effective cleaning is one of the best ways we have to protect the health of residents and staff.
There is no better way to honor the month of May – Older Americans Month – than insisting that cleaning professionals brush up on cleaning best practices and custodial training. It is also a worthy idea to consult with an astute cleaning contractor familiar with effective infection prevention strategies. Quite literally, they can be a lifesaver.
Rick VanderKoy is president of Secure Clean Building Services, based in Marengo, IL. The family-operated facility cleans schools and commercial facilities throughout the Chicago area and the state of Illinois. He can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.
I’m sure for managers throughout the country, that message is as unexpected as it is encouraging. The fact is the virus that causes COVID-19 (coronavirus) is not hard to eliminate. It takes some very specific cleaning steps to eradicate the virus and the use of some very specific cleaning products, but these steps can be learned, and these products are now available to school districts around the country from several different manufacturers.
What we are finding to be most effective is what is referred to as electrostatic misters. While some manufacturers may refer to them by different names, they all tend to fall into this same product category.
Essentially what these misters do is spray a disinfecting mist (fog) onto surfaces, which then kills pathogens as it is applied. As the systems are used, the mist wraps around immediate and surrounding surfaces, further enhancing its usefulness.
While these technologies are not new, with COVID-19, the need for them has increased exponentially. Earlier this year, airlines started using them to ensure airplane cabins were as healthy and sanitized as possible. However, in recent weeks, many types of facilities – including educational facilities – have jumped on the bandwagon and are using them as well.
Further, to enhance the effectiveness of these misters, we apply hypochlorous acid to surfaces. Don’t let this “25-cent” word – hypochlorous – confuse you or the word “acid” raise concern.
Hypochlorous acid is a weak acid found in many cleaning solutions, both for commercial and residential use.
It contains chlorine. Using it helps clean and disinfect surfaces, and when used in conjunction with electronic misters, this cleaning process provides more thorough coverage, essentially leaving no place for germs and pathogens, including those causing COVID-19 to hide. Additionally, using the two products together helps create a shield, temporarily blocking surfaces from further contamination.
Putting Electrostatic Sprayers to Work
One school district that has used this technology and these procedures to help keep schools healthy is the Klein Independent School District (Klein ISD) located near Houston, TX. Made up of 50 schools, the district has a student population of about 50,000.
According to Scott Lazar, Klein ISD Director of Plant Operations, the use of misters is “state of the art” technology, which is undoubtedly needed right now. The mist is applied to virtually all school surfaces in the school, both those that are considered high touch as well as those that may be indirectly touched by students, staff, or objects placed on surfaces that are later touched by school users.
Lazar also notes that using this technology, the district can clean a much wider area of surfaces at the same time. We referenced this earlier. For instance, when cleaning a countertop with a sprayer and cloth, or mopping floors, only those specific areas are being cleaned. With misters, surrounding areas such as walls around countertops or the base of furniture and baseboards are also being cleaned.
As to effectiveness, the district performed adenosine triphosphate (ATP) monitoring tests. So we are clear, ATP systems are designed to detect if cells that potentially could spread disease are present on a surface. They do not indicate if specific germs, such as those that cause COVID-19 are present. However, when the district tested surfaces after using this technology, they reported that some reading, which were as high as 100 before cleaning, were reduced to 12 after cleaning.
Caveats with Electrostatic Sprayers
Before any further discussion, I want to address a few issues that readers of this article may have. For instance:
Does my company make electrostatic misters?
No, we are a family-run building service contractor located in Illinois.
The company was founded in 1975. We purchase all of our cleaning supplies and equipment.
Why do we recommend the use of hypochlorous acid in conjunction with the electrostatic sprayers or misters?
To ensure effective cleaning, surfaces must be cleaned first and then disinfected. This is a best practice that should be applied, whether using traditional cleaning methods or new cleaning technologies such as electrostatic misters. By adding hydrolatrous acid, we are combining the two steps into one.
Have we performed ATP monitoring tests?
Yes, we have tested surfaces before and after cleaning use these steps and technology, and ATP readings were reduced. ATP scores, we should also point out, can vary and may not always be the same due to several factors. But what we have found is that ATP reading do decline considerably, indicating surfaces are cleaner and healthier after this form of cleaning is implemented.
What is our goal with this article?
As a cleaning contractor and long-time member of ISSA, the worldwide cleaning association, our goal is to protect the health of building users, and as a father, especially the health of students and staff. We thank this publication for allowing us the opportunity to share what we are finding useful during this crisis to possibly help their readers.
Safety, Training, and Application
This cleaning process and this technology are safe to use. Each manufacturer will provide specific instructions on how to use their equipment. Read those first before using the machine.
When using, we ask our custodial workers to wear masks for their own protection.
Further, the entire area being misted should be cleared of people. This helps ensure the mist is not inhaled by someone not wearing a mask. But it also allows the mist to “set” on surfaces, without intrusion, allowing it to work most effectively.
Before using the technology, some surfaces should be cleaned first. For instance, if used in a restroom or kitchen area, clean the entire area first. When cleaning is completed, then use the mister.
This is obvious, but in general, this applies to all areas cleaned. Some high touch areas, especially in an educational facility, may become very soiled during the day. Clean these areas first before application. This helps improve the efficacy of the technology, further contributing to protect health.
The Future of Clean
We know this is an unprecedented situation, and the professional cleaning industry will never be the same again. Cleaning manufacturers, ISSA, and other organizations are stepping up to the plate to develop new “best practices” specifically designed to protect human health. These best practices will be a part of our industry long after this crisis has passed.
Rick VanderKoy is president of Secure Clean Building Services, based in Marengo, IL. The family-operated facility cleans schools and commercial facilities throughout the Chicago area and the state of Illinois. He can be reached at email@example.com
I’m sure few of us feel emotionally safe these days with COVID-19. And, I am sure there are few facility managers or business owners that thought they would be living through a pandemic. Fewer still expected that their entire building operations would come to a complete standstill.
However, in Illinois, the green light is starting to flicker. It looks like office buildings, schools, colleges, and many other types of public facilities are reopening or planning to very soon.
As this happens, managers/owners need to focus on ensuring their buildings are “emotionally safe.”
Here is what we mean by that. An emotionally safe building, according to an industrial-organizational psychologist, is one in which building users – your staff and visitors – “feel like they can let their guard down and be themselves.”
Just in case you do not realize how important this may be to your staff, put yourself in the following situation:
It is Monday morning, and you are about to go back to work for the first time in three months.
With everything you have heard about COVID-19, are you ready to shake hands with or get close to your co-workers?
You call a meeting and ask several people to come to the conference room. Even with social distancing, are you comfortable about being in a confined space with all these people?
In the conference room, someone on your staff starts sneezing. How does that make you feel?
As you can see, administrators have much work to do to make sure building users feel emotionally safe to come back to work. Fortunately, however, there are steps they can take to put building users’ minds at ease.
We encourage administrators to post signage throughout their facilities, reminding building users of the precautions they must take due to COVID. This includes the wearing of masks, social distancing, and hand washing. In psychology, messaging like this is often referred to as “suggestions.”
They create an image in our minds about something or some action we should take. Studies have shown that they can be immensely powerful in changing behaviors. By encouraging everyone to take necessary precautions and seeing that others are abiding by the visual messages, they also help everyone feel a bit safer working in an indoor environment.
The Role of Cleaning and Emotionally Safe Buildings
Just in case you have not noticed, professional cleaning has been turned upside down. It is now all about health, infection prevention, and well-being. Ensure that building users are assured that your building has been thoroughly “deep cleaned” using some of the latest infection control technologies such as electrostatic sprayers. You may have seen news stories about these systems being used on airplanes. A mist is applied to all surfaces, killing germs and pathogens, including those that can cause COVID.
Using messaging techniques, keep building users up to date about how these and other systems are being used to protect their health.
Many staffers are likely to continue working at home even after offices and similar facilities are reopened. This means that there will likely be unoccupied space. We advise our clients to take advantage of this situation by relocating workers to open spaces no longer being used, at least for the time being. Confined areas in general, and confined workspaces can generate anxieties. Distancing promotes emotional safety.
Because less space in the facility may be occupied, at least initially, administrators may consider turning off HVAC to reduce energy costs. The American Society of Heating, Refrigerating, and Air-Conditioning Engineers (ASHRAE) does not recommend this. Instead, they recommend leaving all systems on and suggest running them even longer than usual, 24/7, if possible. This will ensure the air in the facility has been thoroughly filtered. Adjust ventilation controls so that more outdoor air is being brought into the facility; change filters more frequently and take related steps to ensure the equipment is operating correctly.
And then, do one more thing. Keep lines of communication open. This helps promote personal safety and emotional safety as well.
To learn more about us, click on the image above or contact us at 888-609-1410.
Industrial facilities have their own unique cleaning needs.
Building managers need to be prepared to take some critical cleaning and hygiene steps before factories, warehouses, and similar locations open or swing into full operation after COVID-19.
But before we discuss the details, we need to point out the significant role cleaning plays in any facility. “Proper and effective cleaning and sanitation are more important than ever before to your staff,” says Rick Vanderkoy, CEO of Secure Clean. “Don’t be surprised if it is the first thing your workers ask about before going back to work.”
With this in mind, here are some of the key areas of an industrial facility Vanderkoy says need special attention before opening:
Hard-to-Reach Areas in Industrial Facilities
It is essential to get behind what are typically hard-to-reach areas such as behind machinery, tool chests, storage cabinets, and work areas. “What happens is that moisture, fluids, dust, and debris can build up in these areas. If there is moisture, it can harbor potentially harmful germs and bacteria.”
Walls in industrial locations collect dust and residue from machinery being used, products being moved, packaging materials, and so on.
This dust can negatively impact indoor air quality. “Protecting indoor air quality now, as a result of COVID, is more important than ever.”
Industrial Facilities Light Fixtures
Light fixtures in industrial locations can become excessively dusty. One reason for this is they rarely get cleaned and may be hard to reach. Dusty light fixtures can also impact indoor air quality. There are new cleaning technologies available that make cleaning light fixtures and ceiling areas much more accessible. This task should be performed regularly, about every six months or so.
If your industrial facility has been closed for a few weeks, there is a particularly good chance the water in the “J” trap underneath the drain has evaporated. Here’s the problem. The J trap is designed to prevent sewer gases from being released into the air. Administrators have a couple of options, starting with pouring about half a gallon of water down each drain or a liquid primer that fills the J trap and takes longer to evaporate.
Most industrial locations have several high-tech devices installed, from computers to electronic controls to operate machinery. In the past, these devices typically received minimal cleaning attention. That is no longer an option, especially if many people use them during the day. These should be cleaned and sanitized/disinfected every day or after every shift. Further, encourage your staff to clean them using alcohol-based sanitizing wipes throughout the day. The solution in these wipes is quick drying, so their use should not interfere with operations.
Something else that needs to be cleaned and maintained is the building’s HVAC system. This includes the duct work, vents, as well as the mechanical systems.
While cleaning HVAC systems is not a service we provide, it is so important that we want to make sure facility managers are aware of this potentially deadly problem.
It was recently reported that following COVID, there might be outbreaks of Legionnaires’ disease in this country and around the world. Legionnaires’ disease is caused by inhaling droplets of legionella pneumophilia bacteria.
This may become a problem because so many facilities, including industrial locations, have been closed for several weeks, even months. With lack of use, the bacteria can build up in HVAC systems, cooling towers, even in shower heads if they are installed in your facility.
While Legionnaires’ is not spread from person to person, as is COVID, it can spread by inhaling contaminated droplets. The result can be flu-like symptoms, pneumonia, even death.
For more information on steps industrial locations can take to make sure they are clean and healthy in a post-COVID era, please contact us below.
To learn more about Secure Clean, click on the image above or contact us at 888-609-1410.
If all goes well, we can expect more office buildings and many other types of commercial facilities to open in Illinois later this summer. This means property owners and managers should be taking steps now, to make sure their facilities are up, running, and healthy, went put back into service.
Here are some reopening steps we recommend for workers involved in preparing buildings for the arrival of building users:
Wear appropriate PPE gear. This includes masks, preferably N-95 masks or KN-95 masks, which are more available now, as well as gloves and eye protection. We are also asking many of our staff to wear coveralls and special shoes when working. Coveralls can be taken off at the end of the work shift and washed. Work footwear should also be washed or cleaned and disinfected daily.
Review PPE procedures. Make sure all workers know how to correctly put on PPE gear as well as take it off. For instance, with masks, the metal part should be over the nose. Place pressure on each end of the metal so that it fits tightly below the eyes. When removing masks, first wash hands. This way any pathogens on the hands will not transfer to the mask or the workers face.
Once the mask is off, wash hands again. Single-use masks and gloves should be disposed of properly.
Adhere to “back of the house” social distancing. For instance, freight elevators, typically used by building personnel, should have no more than two people in them. Similar restrictions may be necessary when people are inside mechanical rooms and storage areas.
Reopening, Cleaning, and Sanitation
Most of the other reopening and preparation steps involve cleaning and sanitation. Ensuring the building is as clean and healthy as possible from the start will help welcome people back and reduce concerns and anxieties. Among the steps we recommend are the following:
· Conduct an inventory to see if all necessary cleaning solutions, materials, consumables, products, and equipment are in stock. Some cleaning supplies may be hard to get, so do this as soon as possible.
· Disinfectants are a top concern. The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) now provides a list of recommended disinfectants that help prevent the spread of COVID-19.
· Cleaning workers must be trained on the proper use of disinfectants. This includes such things as dilution of the disinfectant as well as adhering to necessary dwell times.
· If electrostatic sprayers are used, review with cleaning workers how to use these machines correctly. These machines help disinfect and sanitize large areas of a facility. They are proving to be the right machine at the right time to fight COVID-19 and perfect for buidling reopenings.
· Make sure all cleaning equipment is working correctly. Pay special attention to vacuum cleaners. The CDC is recommending the use of vacuum cleaners equipped with high-efficiency particulate air (HEPA) filters. These filters can capture and trap microbes, such as those that can cause the virus, and prevent them from being released into the air.
· Conduct a walk-through of the entire facility, determining which are the most heavily used areas and which need the most cleaning attention. This could include cafeterias and food service areas, major walkways, gyms and locker rooms, conference areas, and restrooms. Also note areas that may not need as much attention. This way, cleaning professionals can better allocate their time when it is needed the most.
· Create an end-of-shift hygiene routine for cleaning workers to follow. For instance, if coveralls are worn, special shoes, or any PPE gear, take them off before leaving the facility.
The Need for Fresh Eyes
This is also an excellent time to bring in a set of “fresh eyes” to examine your facility. A pair of fresh eyes can see things that may be currently overlooked and make suggestions on ways to ensure your facility is sanitized, decontaminated, and healthy. We are now offering this service to building owners and managers throughout the state.
And one more thing. During these turbulent and disturbing times, we also recommend that building owners and managers let tenants know what steps are being taken to protect their health and safety. Usually, information on how a facility is cleaned and maintained is of minor interest to building users. Now it may be the first thing they inquire about.
While nothing is in stone, it does appear some schools around the state will be opening later this summer if everything goes as hoped. “Schools, summer and fall programs, childcare and higher education can open with safety guidelines, and all outdoor recreation programs will be allowed,” according to Governor Pritzker.
However, that does not mean that administrators can just unlock the doors and welcome students and staff back in school facilities. Far from it. Reopening must be planned, and decisions must be made to ensure summer facilities are clean and healthy.
We are working with many school administrators around the state, helping them re-open, and here are some of the things we are advising them to do:
Perform a Deep Clean
Most schools have been closed since March. They’re dusty. Bathrooms have not been cleaned in all that time, potentially causing bacteria to build up. Floors need to be vacuumed and cleaned, and hard surface floors likely need to be mopped if not machine scrubbed.
In addition, all desks, tables, counters, high touch areas as well as restrooms and kitchens must be detail cleaned.
We are not taking these steps not just to remove dust or soil build up on surfaces. We are doing this because many of these same areas must now be disinfected. In cleaning, administrators should always remember to clean first to remove soils and disinfectant second to kill pathogens.
Disinfecting the School
As you can imagine, re-cleaning all the same areas we have just discussed with a disinfectant can be a very time-consuming process. Fortunately, there are highly effective options that protect student and staff health that are also faster and cost-effective.
These systems are not new. But due to the COVID pandemic, they have certainly proven to be the right disinfecting system at the right time.
Electrostatic sprayers release a specialized solution on to surfaces. The solution is positively charged and adheres to most surfaces – counters, walls, high touch areas, desks, etc. – which are negatively charged. The spray can coat surfaces evenly and can also be used to disinfect hard to reach areas. In minutes, the just cleaned surfaces are disinfected and contamination-free.
While we recommend the use of electrostatic sprayers before schools are reopened, they should also be used regularly once buildings are in use. We recommend some form of a set schedule.
Once schools are reopened, administrators must realize we are now living in a “new normal” when it comes to school operations and cleaning. Business as usual, as it has been carried out for years, is over.
To address these changes, some of the suggestions we have for administrators for school reopeing are the following:
Increase cleaning frequencies. Unfortunately, many school districts have had to cut back from cleaning five times per week to three, even two. Because COVID is so contagious, schools should be cleaned at least three times per week, if not five. This may sound overly cautious, primarily because schools may not be used as much and by as many students in the summer months, but what’s our alternative? Risk someone getting this disease.
Evaluate all cleaning solutions/disinfectants used. Many school districts purchase their own cleaning supplies, especially if they are cleaned in-house. We must now pay close attention to the disinfectants selected. They must be certified by the EPA to help prevent the spread of COVID. Additionally, they must be used exactly as the manufacturer suggests.
Ask for help. If in-house custodians clean your facility, we are finding it an excellent idea to ask a reputable, experienced cleaning contractor to go to the schools, evaluate the current cleaning program in place, as well as the products in use. This “fresh set of eyes” can help ensure steps to stop the spread of infection are being employed and can also help reduce cleaning times. This means that custodial workers can perform more cleaning tasks in the same amount of time.
While the goal of this blog is to help school administrators prepare for reopening their schools this summer, there is one more thing we would like to suggest: ask for a free quote.
State budgets, city budgets, and school budgets are all stretched to the max. Often, turning cleaning over to an outside cleaning contractor can be a significant cost saving, and one less thing school administrators need to be concerned about in these trying times.
Almost under the dark of night, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention changed its guidelines about how the coronavirus is spread.
They had indicated in the past that the two most common ways the COVID-19 virus is spread are by inhaling droplets from infected people and from touching surfaces contaminated with the germs. Once these germs are on hands and then find their way to the eyes, ears, and mouths, cross-contamination begins.
Now, they believe that coronavirus “does not spread easily” on contaminated surfaces.
This has caused considerable confusion, especially in the professional cleaning industry. We have known for decades that when health-risking pathogens on surfaces are touched, it can spread disease. There are even studies going back to the 1970s in hospitals that have found when pathogens are on floors, they can find their way on to the hands of patients. This can cause healthcare-associated infections, many of which cannot be treated with antibiotics.
So why the change About Contaminated Surfaces?
First, we should clarify that the new CDC guidelines say the virus “does not spread easily” after someone touches a contaminated surface. “Easily” is the keyword here. This means it still can happen, and in fact, the CDC says that “practical and realistic precautions” should continue. This would include cleaning and disinfecting surfaces.
As to answering our question above, the change in the guidelines was because the information available to the CDC at the time the guidance was prepared, was somewhat limited and not peer-reviewed. It was based on a study published in mid-March in The New England Journal of Medicine. That study found that the germs that can cause COVID-19 can last on various surfaces for up to three days.
The study did not find, however, whether people could become infected with the disease by touching these surfaces.
The CDC adds that COVID-19 is a new disease and that future studies may find cross contamination is possible. In fact, many observers believe this is exactly what we should expect.
In the meantime, this might leave building owners and managers, as well as the professional cleaning industry, in a sort of limbo. Should they forget about cleaning and disinfecting surfaces, especially high touch point surfaces like light switches, door handles, and more?
Since the CDC appears to be going back and forth, possibly we can find some stability if we see what the World Health Organization (WHO) says. According to WHO:
“Covid-19 spreads primarily from person to person [but] it can also spread if you touch contaminated objects and surfaces.”
WHO even goes a step further. It breaks down many of the commonly touched surfaces found in homes and commercial facilities that we should be wary of. These include not only light switches and doorknobs but also computers, elevator buttons, pens, railings, and several more. Then they add:
“If you touch something contaminated and then touch your face… you might fall ill.”
The World Health Organization has maintained this view since the virus was uncovered, and we believe it is in the best interest of all building managers to follow it. As a result, here are our recommendations:
All high touch areas in a facility should be cleaned and disinfected every cleaning visit.
Electrostatic sprayers, which are vital to infection control, help kill germs on many areas at one time, should be used in different types of facilities such as schools.
Managers should always “err on the side of caution.” It will be far better to find out later that these high touch areas did not need cleaning and disinfecting than to find out that they did.
There are usually only two reasons a cleaning contractors deliver low bids to a property or business manager. These are:
They did it on purpose. The cleaning contractor knows they can undercut the competition for several reasons, such as not paying employment taxes; paying less than minimum wage; hiring subcontractors, or selling the contract to an independent contractor, which is essentially what a franchise does. Or, as we have discussed in an earlier blog, plans ways to cut corners and reduce the amount of cleaning time they spend in the facility.
They did it by mistake. There is an adage among bidders of government offices, which by law, often must hire the lowest bidder. It goes something like this: “The work isn’t awarded to the lowest bidder; it’s awarded to the contractor that makes the biggest mistake.”
Making mistakes when bidding is quite common when working with a new, inexperienced cleaning contractor. And now, with many people out of work, several are starting cleaning services. They are looking for an easy business to get into and believe cleaning fits the bill.
However, what they do not realize is that bidding in professional cleaning is based on cleaning time estimates and calculations, cleaning best practices, and cleaning knowledge. And today, with COVID-19, we should add that cleaning is based on science. All cleaning tasks must now be designed to help stop the spread of infection.
The Low Bids End Game
It can be tough to ignore a low bid. The client assumes they will be getting the cleaning service they need and at a very reasonable price. They have reviewed the proposal several times and gone through the specifications step-by-step with the contractor, so there is no reason not to accept it.
However, all too often an assortment of problems can materialize when working with a low bidder. Poor service is usually just the start of them. No service can be another.
But something we have not discussed before, which I believe is particularly important to address, is what often happens once a manager hires and starts working with a low-bid cleaning contractor: an adversarial relationship develops.
The client wants the quality of service outlined in the proposal and carefully reviewed with the cleaning contractor. When the managers does not get it, it fast becomes an embarrassment for her. She wishes she had not hired the service in the first place.
Worse, the manager may be concerned that this will become a “black mark” with her employer. She is not happy, and this often is reflected in a series of calls and complaints to the cleaning contractor, all a reflection of the adversarial relationship that has evolved.
When problems start emerging, the contractor, on the other hand, may try to address the issues and complaints initially, but in time the quality of service drifts back down. In time, it is not uncommon for a low bid contractor to begin ignoring the client’s calls and concerns altogether, another reflection of an adversarial relationship.
The only way to avoid such an uncomfortable situation is to be cautious when taking bids. We know now that low bids only occur for two reasons, neither of which paint a bright future working with a low bid cleaning contractor.
So, what should building and business managers do?
Here is a suggestion. When taking bids for cleaning, take several and look for the range of charges. What you will likely see is a couple of remarkably high bids and a couple of exceptionally low bids. But there will also be bids that fall between these two extremes. Those probably reflect the correct costs to clean your facility, and those are the cleaning contractors you should consider working with.
In the past 45 years, we have seen many things, including what often happens when a building manager accepts a cleaning proposal from a low bidder. Yes, there are times when everything works out well. The contractor delivers a good, maybe even a very high-quality service, at a low price. But all too often, there are problems
Here are the four most common problems we see when a low bidder cleaning contractor is selected to clean a facility:
The low bidder is “shortcut focused.”
Often, before submitting the bid, the low bidder has already looked for ways to take shortcuts. Their thinking goes something like this: “If we just clean that area every other night, instead of every night, and that other area twice per week instead of three times per week, they probably will not even notice. Then we can reduce the bid by $ xxxx.” Well, guess what. The customer invariably notices and starts complaining about poor service.
Training is an afterthought.
Many low bid cleaning contractors do not have the time or resources to train their cleaning staff. Professional cleaning is a science, and cleaning professionals are taught “best practices” to perform their cleaning duties most effectively and cost-effectively. However, invariably when the low bid contractor hires someone new, they have them work with another cleaning worker to “learn how things are done.” But that cleaning worker was never taught how to clean properly either. In these scenarios, it’s almost like poor workmanship is inherited from one untaught cleaning worker to another.
Low Bidders Often Have Hidden Charges
A facility manager contacted her cleaning contractor to report that there were several spots on the carpet in a second-floor office, asking if they could be removed. Further, she asked if the cleaning workers could keep their eyes open for carpet spots regularly and remove them when found. When the contractor’s bill arrived at the end of the month, there was a carpet spotting charge of $150 for the second-floor office and another one for $125 for “patrolling the facility looking for carpet spots.”
The manager assumed there might be a charge for spotting the carpet in the second-floor office. It was excessively soiled. But questioned the $125 for “patrolling the facility.” To her surprise, the low-bid contractor pointed out that the contract does not include looking for or removing carpet spots anywhere in the building. That’s an extra charge.
When taking bids, most cleaning contractors will state that they are “insured and bonded” and may include the necessary paperwork if required in the request for proposal (RFP). When bidding on large facilities, the RFP may even specify the amounts of insurance that are needed. However, in most locations, all that may be mandatory is that the contractor have insurance. This can be a cost-savings loophole for a low-bidding cleaning contractor, which can have negative implications for building managers.
Many low bid contractors carry minimum insurance packages. These may also have a large deductible that the contractor must meet on their own. Further, the insurance may only cover damages if they are the result of the contractor’s own actions, not one of her employees or sub-contractors.
In such a situation, if the cleaning crew damages a tenant’s item, the insurance may not be enough to pay for the item or may not cover it at all. This means the management company will be forced to cover the costs.
As discussed in other blogs, when hiring a low bid cleaning contractor, do so with caution. In all too many cases, it can be “penny wise and pound foolish.”