Protecting building occupants in a post-COVID-19 world

As property managers worldwide begin to reopen their facilities, we can expect some to have bright and bold signs, welcoming back tenants and building users.

However, if we look a little closer, we might find some fine print added to those signs, indicating that “we’ve made a few changes while you were gone.”

Building users should expect this as should the cleaning contractors maintaining these facilities. Among the changes to expect, which are being developed or installed in buildings all over the world, are the following:

  • Thermal cameras may be installed at key building entries. These monitor – and score – how closely building users are adhering to social distancing regulations. A poor score could have serious repercussions.
  • Some major banks around the world are installing phone apps that can trace worker interactions within a building and with customers. This way, if worker “A” should become infected, and they have recently had interactions with workers “B” and “C,” in the facility, those other workers will be sent home for up to 14 days until it is verified if they are not infected.
  • Systems are being installed that can take the temperature of several individuals at one time as they walk into a facility. Those with a high temperature will be stopped at the door. While this won’t indicate if they have COVID, a high-temperature reading is viewed as a red flag.
  • A major North American advertising company with offices in Australia, is about to sign off on what many believe is a very intrusive system. Its 22,000 workers worldwide will be required to disclose medical and personal information about themselves and, in some cases, family members. Such information is typically viewed as private and confidential. Their goal, however, is to determine perceived health risks. (See sidebar: What else can we expect)

These examples tell us that facility managers and employers are taking significant steps to monitor and track their staff.

While a variety of surveillance measures around the world were implemented after 9/11, the arrival of COVID-19 is bringing things to a much higher level.

Many organisations now believe this is the only way they can reopen their properties, and what is even more important, keep them open by protecting the health of building users.

This pandemic’s “consequences are far-reaching, and it is going to change the way offices and other commercial facilities operate,” says Scott Rozendaal with Spillz.

“When people are hired for a new job, they’re not going to ask others if ‘this is a good place to work.’  Instead, they will ask if this is ‘a safe place to work.’”

Oh, and one more thing. Do not expect these surveillance systems to be removed once concerns about the virus dissipate.

“Employers don’t have any incentives to remove surveillance [systems] once they install them,” says Jason Schultz, a law professor at New York University.

Verification

Many of us understand why building managers are taking these steps, even if we believe it may be unpleasant and concerning.

But for managers and companies around the world, these steps provide them with something they need right now and that is verification that the people working in the facility are healthy.

Without some form of verification, because COVID is so contagious, if one person is sick, the virus could quickly spread to many other building users. When it comes to cleaning, building managers and business owners are also going to be looking for verification.

“They will want proof – and proof on an ongoing basis – that surfaces in their facility are hygienically clean and healthy,” says Marc Ferguson, with Kaivac, manufacturers of professional cleaning systems that help prevent the spread of infection.

“This will apply not only to high touch but low touch areas as well.”

In terms of proving that surfaces are clean, ATP rapid monitoring systems are the best tools we have. Most cleaning contractors have heard of these, many are using them now, and many more will be acquiring them going forward.

However, because they will be playing a more prominent role in professional cleaning, it is well worth our time to better understand what ATP systems are all about.

Before ATP, which stands for adenosine triphosphate, the only way a cleaning contractor or building manager could determine if a surface was clean and healthy was to swab it, place the swab findings in a Petri dish, and wait. Within a few days the results would show if contaminants were present.

ATP monitors can evaluate surfaces in seconds instead of days. They do not indicate what pathogens are on a surface, however. What they do is measure the concentration of light units generated by organic material or living cells on the surface.

After a swab is rubbed on a surface, it is then placed in the monitor. Within seconds, a digital evaluation appears.

A high number indicates that a large volume of organic material or living cells are present. This is cause for concern. A low reading indicates the opposite. (See Sidebar: Some caveats about ATP monitors)

Floorcare

We have long underestimated the impact soiled floors can have on disease.  More than ever before, as the largest surface in a facility, floors will come under greater scrutiny.

“At one time, a major hospital association in the United States advised hospitals to pay only moderate attention to floors, indicating the primary concern is their appearance,” says Ferguson.

“The only reason for a clean, glossy floor, according to this association, [was that it] raised staff morale and increased patient comfort and trust levels.”

Fortunately, they no longer have this view. Likely it was changed as a result of studies such as this one published in the American Journal of Infection Control.

In this study, researchers took samples from the floors of 159 patient rooms in five hospitals and found that many were contaminated with health care-associated pathogens that are known to cause nosocomial (healthcare acquired) disease.

“We found that floors in patient rooms were frequently contaminated with [nosocomial pathogens] and demonstrated the potential for indirect transfer of pathogens to hands from the floor.” 1

While our focus here is not hospital floors, what this and many other studies indicate is that floors can harbor pathogens that can cause disease and those pathogens can be transferred to people. These pathogens may be those that cause MRSA (Methicillin-resistant Staphylococcus Aureus) or COVID-19. This makes proper floorcare in a post-COVID world even more essential.

How can this best be accomplished? 

First, what to avoid:

Mops and buckets: Custodial workers have long assumed mops and buckets get contaminated with use and then spread that contamination on the floor as the mop is used. Now we have studies going back fifty years that verify this is the case.

Not only can floor mopping spread contamination, with use, the process minimizes and then eliminates the efficacy of the disinfectant being used.

“As the [cleaning] worker mops a floor and immerses the mop into the bucket of disinfectant solution, the solution will degrade. At a certain point, a disinfectant will be rendered ineffective,” according to Kelly Pyrek, writing in the October 31, 2018 issue of Infection Control Today magazine. 2

What to consider:

Automatic scrubbers: While these tend to be costly machines, both to purchase and to own, they can help ensure soils and pathogens are removed from floor surfaces.

Auto Vacs: These systems have been independently tested and proven to perform as effectively as – if not more effectively than – automatic scrubbers. 3 These machines also have few moving parts, resulting in fewer repair needs.

Aqueous ozone: Made by different manufacturers, these machines can be effective at cleaning and sanitising floors and other surfaces. However, cleaning professionals should evaluate this technology closely to determine if they will prove most effective for their specific needs.

As others have observed, this virus has taught us many things, including the significance of sound and effective cleaning practices.

“The professional cleaning industry is prepared to lead the way in protecting the health of building users,” adds Ferguson.

“Some say this is our industry’s calling. Let’s make sure we have the products, knowledge, and training to answer this call.”

1 Deshpande A, Cadnum JL, Fertelli D, et al. Are hospital floors an underappreciated reservoir for transmission of health care-associated pathogens? American Journal of Infection Control. 2017

2  “Shoe Sole and Floor Contamination: A New Consideration in the Environmental Hygiene Challenge for Hospitals,” by Kelly Pyrek, Infection Control Today, October 31, 2018

3 Based on studies by the TURI Surface Solutions Laboratory at the University of Massachusetts, US.

Robert Kravitz is a frequent writer for the professional cleaning industry. He can be reached at robert.kravitz@outlook.com.

This article first appeared in the July/August issue of INCLEAN Australia magazine 

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