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Disinfection: A Conversation 1 Year Into COVID-19

One year into the COVID-19 pandemic, a conversation with a client revealed that some things have changed greatly; others remain very much the same.

It started with a talk with Mann Publications CEO Jeffrey Mann calling to arrange for the disinfecting of his offices — as well as asking me to write this article to answer a lot of his — and your — questions about what is needed to disinfect offices as the pandemic continues as we await full dissemination of vaccines.

We had disinfected Mann’s offices in May 2020, so one question became why Jeff felt it was necessary to do so again. Had anyone in his office tested positive for COVID-19 and come in? When the answer was “No,” I asked if his building’s maintenance company had been disinfecting in the course of their normal duties. They were, he said, but he told me, “Your team is much more thorough and detailed.” In no way was this a criticism of the maintenance company’s work, as they have very specific duties and responsibilities, and most of them are trying to exercise some common touch-prone surface disinfecting at the same time.

Even in May, this work was not really necessary, since no one who had been in there had contracted the virus, and the information from the CDC was (and remains) that the virus is not commonly spread by touching a surface previously touched by someone who is infected with COVID-19 but instead is transmitted by direct physical contact or being in proximity with an infected person. Nonetheless, the service was requested and performed.

So I asked Jeff why he felt the office needed to be disinfected again despite what the maintenance people do on a regular basis. He explained that it had been some time since we had been there, and he felt it was due. He then turned the question back to me and asked, “How often do you recommend disinfecting the surfaces in my offices?” My response was, “How can I answer that when I didn’t recommend you doing it in the first place?”

What transpired afterward was a discussion on optics and showing his employees that he is going above and beyond to protect their health. In stepping back and looking at the big picture I realized there must be billions of dollars being spent for the sake of optics. And while having confidence is important, at what price?

Clearly, we determined that there is a need for a standard of care and some easy guidelines to follow to help demystify the practice of surface disinfection.

Firstly, a person’s workspace is the least of my concerns, especially in today’s environment of social distancing. The chances of someone other than the person working in that space coming in and touching those surfaces is minimal. In a shared workspace, I would be concerned, and I would consider the most commonly-touched surfaces such as desktops, keyboards, the mouse, phones and any other surfaces that would likely be touched.

Kitchens and bathrooms in an office space are high targets for dis-infection. Multiple people would be touching the same surfaces, and that is where the transmission risk increases. Additionally, areas of human convergence, such as elevator vestibules and lobbies, are considered high touch-prone areas, and those surfaces need to be disinfected on a more regular basis. Most buildings are sensitive to this and have set up rigorous disinfecting procedures that are being followed on a daily basis, with some surfaces being treated multiple times per day.

Products are also a factor. Surface disinfecting is not rocket science, and household disinfectant products (such as Clorox360 and the like) are completely sufficient; after all, we have been using those products in our home, disinfecting our bathrooms and garbage cans forever. Some products claim to protect surfaces for a month. I don’t know all of the science behind it, but I do know that as soon as the surface is touched, the protectant is wiped away. What good did it really do?

Perhaps the most important thing to know about disinfecting surfaces is proper application of the product. The first big mistake people make is that they think disinfecting replaces the need for cleaning. It does not. If there is dirt or dust or any residue on a surface, you can not properly disinfect it, period. Once you have a clean surface, know that each product calls for a certain dwell time (the amount of time that the surface needs to be wet with the product for it to be fully effective). Many disinfectant products call for a 10-minute dwell time. This information can be found on the label or application instructions for all products. You spray the product on, leave it and return and wipe down the excess after the called-for dwell time.

There has been a lot of talk about different application methods, such as electrostatic spraying, ULV fogging, etc. All of these have some use in a commercial application of a disinfectant product but are not necessary when it comes to taking care of your own surface disinfecting.

One of the best systems I have seen implemented in a small office environment was this: due to social distancing, no one went into a workstation aside from the person working there. That person was given the products and encouraged to do a disinfectant wipe-down of their workspace at the beginning and end of every day. Meetings were done in common spaces, and there was a can of disinfectant wipes in each meeting space with instructions on what “touch-prone” surfaces to wipe down. The common spaces, such as the kitchen, bathroom and reception area were wiped down once a day by maintenance staff and twice a day by someone from the office on a rotating basis.

As more vaccines are administered and herd immunity takes over, we are coming to the end of this worldwide pandemic. But we have learned many valuable lessons we will use for years to come.