The latest guidelines on cleaning for coronavirus and other highly contagious diseases, while also protecting yourself.
As professional cleaners, we regularly deal with contaminants we can’t see, such as bacteria, germs, viruses, or chemical residues. We’re so used to it that we rarely give it a second thought. We don our personal protective gear and get to work.
But what about the coronavirus? Does cleaning for coronavirus put us at a higher risk? Does it require different cleaning methods? We deal with cleaning for the flu every year, but the new coronavirus (COVID-19) seems different, more frightening. Travel restrictions and advisories are in place across the globe. People, cities, and entire regions are under quarantine. Major public events are being postponed. Even Disney theme parks in Hong Kong and Shanghai, China are closed.
Is it really that different, though? The symptoms of the coronavirus are similar to those of the flu: cough, fever, and shortness of breath. Severe cases may cause pneumonia, acute respiratory syndrome, kidney failure, and even death. While those are certainly concerning, does that mean you need to change your approach to cleaning? Here’s what we know right now.
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Get the facts on cleaning for coronavirus
According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), a pandemic happens when “new (novel) influenza A viruses emerge which are able to infect people easily and spread from person to person in an efficient and sustained way.” In the case of the current coronavirus, COVID-19, the CDC suggests that the “potential public health threat” is high and that widespread transmission is likely. That said, individual risk is very much dependent on exposure.
For example, the World Health Organization (WHO) points out that while we don’t know for certain how long this coronavirus can survive on a surface, studies suggest that it is similar to other viruses and can live for a few hours or up to several days, depending on the specific conditions.
The Journal of Hospital Infection reports that “endemic human coronaviruses (HCoV) can persist on inanimate surfaces like metal, glass or plastic for up to 9 days.” Alternatively, sources such as England’s NHS and the CDC state that the current coronavirus is not likely to survive for very long on surfaces.
In fact, the CDC reports that you can be in the same indoor environment as someone infected with the coronavirus for a prolonged time with limited risk, as long as you keep a distance of at least six feet. And there is “no identifiable risk” just from walking past an infected person or being in the same room for a brief moment.
Protect yourself from infection
Still, we want to protect ourselves from infection, and we want to clean thoroughly to protect our clients. There are plenty of ways to do this, some of which are very simple. To protect yourself and your team from the coronavirus – and colds and flu in general – the WHO recommends these steps:
- Wash your hands regularly with soap and warm water. Scrub for at least 20 seconds, making sure to get each of your fingers and the back of your hands.
- If soap and water are not available, use 70% alcohol-based hand sanitizer.
- Don’t share cups or drinks with other people.
- Avoid touching your eyes, mouth, or nose to prevent infection in case the virus is on your hands.
- Get your flu shot. There is no vaccine for the coronavirus, but a flu vaccine will help you keep your immune system healthy.
Additionally, you can help prevent the spread of colds, flu, and coronavirus by following a few simple steps:
- Cover your mouth and nose with the inside of your elbow when you cough or sneeze.
- Stay home if you are sick.
- Seek medical attention if you have a fever, cough, or difficulty breathing.
Cleaning for coronavirus includes specific protocols, as well, to keep you and your team healthy. These include a risk assessment, personal protective equipment (PPE), and disinfectant recommendations.
Cleaning for coronavirus: Assessing risk
In locations you are familiar with, you may already know what the level of risk is. For new sites, the ISSA recommends gathering as much information as you can before you arrive to ensure you have the right equipment and cleaning solutions. An ATP Meter may be beneficial in determining the extent of contamination both before and after cleaning.
Cleaning for coronavirus: Personal protective equipment
One of the most critical aspects of using PPE is making sure everyone knows how to correctly put on and remove the equipment. It doesn’t matter how good, or expensive your PPE is, if you don’t use it correctly, it is ineffective.
In cases of potential coronavirus contamination, the minimum PPE guidance is for:
- An “N-95 respirator or a higher level of respiratory protection such as a powered air-purifying respirator”
- Eye protection
- Disposable gown and shoe covers
If you are working in a location where “an infectious individual has been, but is no longer present,” the PPE recommendations are similar, except for shoe covers. Those are optional if there is no “noticeable human waste material.” One other difference is that a surgical mask (vs. an N-95 respirator) is acceptable, as long as there is minimal likelihood of generating aerosols.
It’s important to note that these recommendations are minimums, and certain disinfectants may require more vigorous PPE practices.
Cleaning for coronavirus: Disinfectant recommendations
Here’s some good news for those of us in the commercial cleaning industry. The CDC recommends “routine environmental cleaning” for most businesses. This includes areas already on your office cleaning checklist: workstations, remotes, doorknobs, countertops, telephones, keyboards, and so on.
Similar protocols exist for cleaning in healthcare settings. Pre-clean surfaces, and apply EPA-registered, hospital-grade disinfectants for appropriate contact times. For specific cleaning products, look for those approved by the EPA for emerging viral pathogens.
In short, coronavirus is a concern, certainly. And it will be for your clients. There is substantial reason to take precautions for your clients while also protecting yourself from infection. Use the above strategies to protect yourself and the workplaces you clean from infection.
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