Building service contractors everywhere are tackling COVID-19 to the best of their abilities. But with misinformation and confusion about the virus, it can be hard for BSCs to navigate the best way to tackle this new virus.
Larinda Becker and Jim Gauthier, both of Diversey, recently held a webinar with BSCAI addressing these issues, and offered their guidance on how BSCs can approach COVID-19 in a methodical, effective way. Becker, the North American healthcare marketing manager at Diversey, and Gauthier, the senior clinical adviser for infection prevention in North America, said that to protect, not only your clients but your staff, you need to have a solid plan in place.
“There’s been a lot of information that’s been going around and being shared,” Gauthier said. “What we want to do is give you the most updated information we have concerning this novel virus and provide you with some direction and ideas you can work with to help keep everyone safe.”
Understanding How SARS-CoV-2 Operates
The first thing BSCs need to understand is how the virus operates. The virus itself is named SARS-CoV-2, while the disease associated with it is called COVID-19. It’s a type of coronavirus, which typically causes varying types of illnesses resembling a cold. This particular coronavirus is very similar to that of SARS-CoV, which had an outbreak in 2003 and caused similar panic around the world.
Currently worldwide, more than 460,000 people have been infected by it, and 4.5% of those people have died. Initially a large number of cases occurred in China, though nearly every country in the world has at least one confirmed case.
Gauthier said this Coronavirus, like all coronaviruses is what’s known as an “enveloped virus,” meaning this makes it much easier to kill with disinfectants, compared to non-enveloped viruses like Norovirus or Rhinovirus. The correct cleaning products have been highly effective in disinfecting and sanitizing spaces where SARS-CoV-2 has been found. SARS-CoV-2 appears to be spread by contact and/or droplets.
The virus can survive up to five days on some surfaces, making cleaning extremely important during this time. It can also be transmitted up to six feet in the air, by coughing or sneezing, before the particles fall off. This is why social distancing is important at this time. It’s also vital to practice proper handwashing techniques and avoid touching your face (eyes, nose or mouth) after touching surfaces or before disinfecting a surface.
Gauthier said it’s really important to explain this to your staff. Having a deeper understanding of how SARS-CoV-2 is spread and where it stays can give cleaners a better insight into how to service facilities and keep themselves healthy.
Optimizing Your Cleaning Schedules for SARS-CoV-2
Gauthier said knowing what we know about SARS-CoV-2, it is important to examine how your cleaning schedules are affecting high-touch areas.
The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention classify building areas in three ways: Level One (standard cleaning), Level Two (suspected case on premise) and Level Three (confirmed case on premise). They also have different recommendations based on whether people occupy a space overnight or not.
Gauthier said depending on what the level of your building is will affect the way you clean it. Understanding that level will help inform you about areas that need to be disinfected and sanitized, the timing in which you can actually perform the cleaning and any personal protection equipment (PPE) you need to supply to your cleaners.
According to the CDC, when cleaning a place that has had a confirmed case of COVID-19:
- Wait 24 hours (if possible) before cleaning the occupied area.
- Ventilate the area by opening windows and doors, if this does not move air to occupied parts of the building.
- Clean all surfaces that are high-touch areas, including any table surfaces, desks, common area surfaces (like cabinets and countertops), touch screens and bathrooms.
- Don’t just clean, disinfect as well.
Gauthier also recommended for buildings with HVAC systems, BSCs should recommend to their clients that they leave them on so the air is well-circulated, if standard practice is to turn off HVAC when spaces are unoccupied.
For regular maintenance in buildings without a confirmed case, Gauthier recommends using strong measures to sanitize and/or disinfect those high touch areas. This includes explaining where these areas of focus should be to your staff. Gauthier recommends having diagrams of the highest used surfaces and areas and having a cleaning plan in place to address high traffic areas.
Utilizing Proper Disinfectants
When considering which disinfectants to use, Gauthier and Becker said BSCs need to make sure they’re using products that are EPA approved for pathogens of concern. They also want to use products that are tough but still pleasant for janitorial staff to use. In times of concern like these, it can be easy to start using extremely strong products with low contact time.
“You don’t want something that is too harsh because you’re afraid of the virus,” Gauthier said.
The EPA has a list for products used to combat coronavirus, which meet the EPA’s criteria for SARS-CoV-2. Gauthier said it’s extremely important to double check what kind of products you’re using against this list, and look at what the contact time required for disinfecting and sanitizing.
BSCs need to underline the importance of disinfecting vs. sanitizing as well. Sanitizing reduces the virus by 99.9 % on non-food contact surfaces, whereas disinfecting reduces the virus by 99.999%. Gauthier said while this doesn’t seem like a huge distinction, it’s an important one.
Also, Becker advised to look at the expiration dates on products. As a product goes through EPA certification, Becker said the supplier does stability testing on it to ensure efficacy againstthe tested pathogens. If you’re using a product past its expiration date, it’s highly likely it is not disinfecting as effectively.
“It can be used as a cleaner, but it can’t ensure the efficacy required for disinfection,” she said.
Lastly, they said if you are going to do deep cleans that include electronics, consider cleaners that won’t damage the product. Manufacturers recommend products with a lot of alcohol in them and those that have the shortest contact time possible. Becker said it’s important to remove excess liquid and wipe down the surface so the item isn’t damaged after the contact time has been achieved.
Using PPEs for Janitorial Staff
Janitorial workers should already be trained on how (and when) to use PPE, but now more than ever it’s important for BSCs to underline proper PPE procedures—including how to remove them.
The CDC recommends for cleaners dealing with SARS-CoV-2, they only need gowns and gloves. Gauthier said if gowns aren’t available, a designated uniform that is washed nightly will suffice. The virus can only live a few hours on clothing, and can be removed with regular laundry detergent. He recommends using hot water during the wash and putting the dryer on hot as well.
For those wondering how to discard their PPE properly, Gauthier said it’s okay to consider it as regular waste. Biohazard waste is when something has blood or bodily fluids on it. Even for deep cleaning and disinfecting, as long as there was no contact with biohazard material, there’s no worry about throwing it in with regular waste.