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As fall approaches, facilities ranging from office buildings to schools are anticipating the return of occupants — albeit with an elevated level of anxiety for many. As mandates return and the Delta variant of COVID-19 continues to announce itself in waves, businesses need to take all possible measures to both keep facilities safe and communicate their efforts.
To get a better idea of what can be done, we reached out to Josh Feinberg, president of the Cleaning Coalition of America for a Q&A exclusive on how to ease concerns about facility safety and encourage a larger scale return to in-person operations. Specifics include ATP testing, IAQ technologies, day cleaning and more.
Q: Have you noticed a rise in cleaning data usage over the past year as a way of calming occupant concerns about a facility’s safety? ATP surface testing, occupancy sensors that pinpoint specific pathogen hotspots are among several potential examples.
CCA members have for years been using a variety of data to inform our practices, but we have certainly seen more clients asking us for ATP testing and other tools that can give them and their occupants peace of mind about safety that goes beyond just the visual cleanliness of a space.
ATP testing, for instance, gives clients real evidence that enhanced cleaning protocols are effective at improving the overall health and safety of spaces, which is information they can provide to occupants. Sensor technology and digital displays can give people real-time data about when a room was last cleaned or how often it’s been cleaned. This is all information that can help alleviate the concerns that a lot of people justifiably have right now, particularly as offices continue to reopen.
For us, this data collection is also essential for informing how often we’re cleaning spaces or where we may need to ramp up sanitizing and disinfecting — particularly those high-touch, high-density areas. Ultimately, we want to ensure that we are providing clients with the cleanest and safest spaces possible, and this data is critical for achieving that goal.
Q: While touchpoint disinfection is critical, indoor air quality can play an equally important role in eradicating infections from facilities. How can facilities gauge IAQ, and what technologies — such as air filter installation or air purification systems — can be utilized to ensure clean air?
There is no single air filtration technology that can eradicate all pollutants, but IAQ combined with proper surface cleaning, sanitizing, and disinfecting can greatly reduce viral transmission. When it comes to an IAQ approach, facilities managers need to consider their specific risk exposures and population densities. A hospital, for instance, needs to continuously and carefully monitor their HVAC units, while a food processing plant or large commercial space may look at their needs differently.
There are a host of other technologies and products that can support IAQ, such as ultraviolet light and dry hydrogen peroxide, that reduce the number of pathogens reaching surfaces. So what we do, along with other CCA members, is help facility managers assess and prioritize their risk exposures and develop strategies that are specific to their space.
Q: How much has day cleaning come to the forefront for office spaces as a means for calming occupant concerns? Are there any challenges to a schedule that is primarily day cleaning?
The more frequent visibility of our professional cleaning workforce has been a high priority for our clients and helps calm concerns about returning to work. People want to see that those shared and high-touch areas — elevator buttons, doorknobs, bathrooms, kitchens — are being properly sanitized and disinfected throughout the day.
This is also where data collection is essential, because that helps determine the most effective and efficient scheduling, along with the areas where we need to really focus during the day versus overnight, and how our team’s responsibilities may shift. Businesses and facilities managers will have to navigate how enhanced day cleaning will work as occupancy increases, but we are seeing that clients are continuing to make day cleaning a priority despite scheduling challenges.
Q: Aside from day cleaning, what other successful methods have you encountered when it comes to showcasing cleanliness in facilities and promoting efforts toward a safe environment?
Beyond the increased visibility of our teams, the best way to showcase cleanliness is simply by communicating to occupants how to be safe.
For instance, facility signage reminding occupants to wash their hands, maintain social distance, and wear masks when appropriate promotes safe and healthy behaviors. These constant reminders along with the technology mentioned earlier, and the increased physical visibility of cleaning crews is all geared toward ensuring we are not only maintaining a safe environment, but also helping people feel safe.
Q: Facilities with advanced, high-frequency cleaning programs (such as schools) can be directly linked to higher attendance rates, test scores, and the benefits that come from performing high in those metrics. How can facilities leverage these correlations to approve a higher cleaning budget?
Again, this brings us back to the importance of data and evidence. If the data and evidence demonstrate that enhanced cleaning protocols and technologies are reducing the number of pathogens in a facility and providing safer, healthier environments, then facilities managers can more effectively make the justification for those dollars.
We’ve seen that these enhanced protocols are helping keep people safe and healthy beyond COVID-19. We also expect that once we return to the workplace in full capacity these protocols can help businesses to avoid over $225 billion in illness related productivity losses that are experienced every year due to other pathogens, like influenza.
Overall, the pandemic showed us that we cannot just clean for show and that removing dust and grime can make an office look clean, but it is often what we cannot see that proves to be much more dangerous.