New Normal: This is how COVID-19 could change cleaning forever
TORONTO -- This viral pandemic will change forever how we clean and disinfect hospitals, long-term care homes, schools, stores, offices, and even our homes, says a veteran director of environmental services in health-care settings.
“All of a sudden, this pandemic is a real eye-opener for everyone about how important best practices in cleaning and disinfecting are in health care and beyond,” Keith Sopha told CTVNews.ca in a telephone interview from Ottawa.
“There is a real opportunity to learn from this.”
Under the weight of COVID-19, hospitals are operating on surge capacity protocols and have doubled routine cleaning and disinfection efforts, says Sopha.
Grocery stores, banks and other essential services are stepping up the routine sanitization of their stores, and places where people with confirmed cases of COVID-19 have been are decontaminated by workers in hazmat suits.
Sopha hopes that soon professional cleaners will be required to be certified, just like food handlers, electricians, and hair stylists.
He says advanced training that covers disinfection and the proper use of protective equipment is vital, because using improper methods or products can actually spread the microorganisms that are responsible for infections. He was part of a soon-to-be-published research project into the cleaning and disinfection of schools.
“In some cases, we found more microorganisms on desks after cleaning than before,” says Sopha, whose Ottawa company CleanLearning is working to push hospital best practices into other sectors.
“We need to train and certify cleaning professionals because this crisis is showing that frontline cleaning staff are essential. What they do matters and how they do it is important.”
He also plans to reach out to the federal government in the hopes of co-ordinating a special health-care housekeepers training program aimed at those in other sectors who’ve lost their jobs due to the pandemic. As COVID-19 patient surges hit Canadian hospitals and more frontline workers are themselves infected with the disease, he’s expecting the demand for hospital cleaners to skyrocket.
'DO THE EASY THINGS RIGHT'
It’s important to keep in mind that health authorities say the primary transmission method of this virus is through respiratory droplets travelling from an infected person to another person, usually within six feet, through the eyes, nose or mouth.
There have been no documented cases of transmission of novel coronavirus through contaminated surfaces, according to the U.S. Centers for Disease Control. But it is known that the virus survives on surfaces for hours to days, and some infectious disease experts say surface transmission is certainly possible.
Washing your hands with soap and water using plenty of friction, not touching your face, and keeping physical distance from those outside your home are crucial steps to bringing this virus under control, says Jason Kindrachuk, an assistant professor and Canada Research Chair in emerging viruses at the University of Manitoba.
Proper cleaning and disinfection at home is the next layer of defence, he said.
Wiping down frequently touched surfaces in your home with disinfectants recommended by health authorities, cleaning kitchens and bathrooms more often, and doing plenty of laundering of towels and sheets will reduce potential transmission, too, says Kindrachuk.
“A coronavirus is basically a ball of protein surrounded by a layer of fat. Soap disperses that outer fat layer and the protein underneath breaks down so that it’s not infective any longer,” he said.
“If you do the easy things right, that will go a long way with this virus.”
CLEANING VERSUS DISINFECTING
A CDC guide for cleaning and disinfecting homes with suspected or confirmed cases of COVID-19 says: “Cleaning of visibly dirty surfaces followed by disinfection is a best practice measure for prevention of COVID-19 and other viral respiratory illnesses in households and community settings.
The terminology here is important. Cleaning refers to the removal of dirt, grime, debris, and germs. Cleaning doesn’t kill germs such as viruses and bacteria that make us sick. But removing them lowers their numbers and the risk they can infect us.
Disinfecting refers to using chemicals to kill germs on surfaces. This must come after cleaning.
The good news is that the novel coronavirus that is responsible for the COVID-19 respiratory infection is relatively easy to remove from surfaces by using soap and water and disinfectants, says Sopha.
Many products that are effective in killing the virus – Health Canada has approved 222 – are already part of routine institutional and even household cleaning regimens, he says.
As well, says Sopha, there is also a range of emerging disinfection technologies, including robotic ultraviolet light and electrostatic sprayers that mist fine disinfectant which can bolster existing cleaning methods in institutional settings like health-care facilities and schools. He expects COVID-19 is vastly accelerating the push for innovation in the field.
WHAT DOES AND DOESN'T WORK
Bleach, isopropyl alcohol and hydrogen peroxide are recommended by Health Canada and other authorities to disinfect for this novel coronavirus.
Common green household cleaners including vinegar, lemon juice, and baking soda are not considered effective in the fight against COVID-19 and are not registered disinfectants by Health Canada, the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency or the CDC.
There is no doubt there has been a run on cleaning products in grocery stores over the past few weeks as items such as disinfecting wipes and sprays became hard to find on store shelves. But resist the urge to experiment, says sustainability advocate and blogger Candice Batista.
She usually recommends using natural or do-it-yourself products to clean and disinfect. But during this health crisis, she urges people to follow expert advice.
“It’s really important to use products that are being recommended by health authorities,” said Batista, who frequently appears as a green expert on the Marilyn Denis Show. “I would be wary of DIY at this time.”
Sopha understands the desire to avoid toxic or harsh chemicals, but he also urges people to refrain from mixing their own compounds, unless following dilution instructions.
For instance, bleach should only be mixed with water to dilute it. Mixing with other compounds can produce deadly gases. And many concoctions can be irritating to the skin.
“If you are not a chemist, beware of what you are mixing.”
If store shelves are running low of approved products, Sopha suggests using dish soap and water with “good old-fashioned elbow grease” because friction removes soil and microorganisms.
Batista says she uses hydrogen peroxide products to disinfect her home. She hasn’t used bleach in years because she doesn’t tolerate the fumes well and believes it’s bad for indoor air quality and the environment. But even she says she considered buying some bleach during a recent grocery trip.
“I think people are afraid right now and that may push them to buy products they don’t normally use.”
EXPERT CLEANING TIPS
- It’s important to clean surfaces first. Mop, dust, vacuum and clean appropriate surfaces with soap and water to remove dirt, grime and grease;
- Then use a disinfectant (compounds that are bleach, hydrogen peroxide, or alcohol based) that kills microorganisms, including viruses and bacteria;
- It’s critical to follow the directions on the label of any disinfectant you are using. The labels indicate whether the product is effective against viruses, what surfaces it can be safely used on, as well as how to properly dilute.
- The labels also contain the formulation’s contact or dwell time, meaning the time the surface must remain wet in order for viruses and bacteria to be killed;
- If the surface dries before the prescribed dwell time, which can range from 30 seconds to 10 minutes, reapply the disinfectant;
- Disinfect counters, sinks, toilets, tables, and floors and concentrate on high-touch areas, including doorknobs, toilet flushers, fridge and cabinet handles, shower curtains, faucets, remote controls, phones and computer keyboards;
- If using a bleach product, open windows, turn on fans and limit your exposure to breathing in the fumes;
- Wash towels, bathmats and sheets on hot or sanitize settings and avoid shaking them out;
- If your normal cleaner is sold out, use dish soap and water;
- An effective all-purpose cleaning solution is 2 cups water, 1/2 teaspoon of dish soap, and if you have it, 5-10 drops of an antibacterial essential oil, such as tea tree oil, lavender, thyme, cinnamon or citrus;
- Always take your shoes off before entering the house to avoid tracking in dirt and germs.
If you have a cleaner in your kitchen cabinet and wonder if it can help protect your family, check if it a has drug identification number (DIN) on the label, which signals it is approved by Health Canada. Then search that DIN on Health Canada’s list of disinfectants that will work against this virus.
The U.S. Environmental Protection Agency has created a similar list of 357 products here.
Health Canada also has a list of more than 830 approved hand sanitizers here.
CTVNews.ca is launching a new series looking at how life will change in the wake of the COVID-19 pandemic.