As we look back on the year that was 2020, you would be hard-pressed to find any person who wasn’t affected by the COVID-19 pandemic. It colored almost every single aspect of our lives. We use terms like “pre-COVID” and “before the pandemic” as references to the time before March 2020, but they also apply to how our world used to operate – and that world radically changed this year. Here are just some of the changes we witnessed or had a major effect on us:
Meet the Frontline
Environmental services, housekeeping, building service contractors, janitors – before the pandemic, these professionals were rarely seen and much less acknowledged. The rapid transmission of the coronavirus and its potentially fatal outcomes brought the importance of
“Janitors are hopeful that their role in this crisis will result in the respect and dignity they deserve,” says Maggie Long, executive director of SEIU Local 49 in Portland, Oregon.[i] Even when vaccines for COVID-19 become widely available, the feeling in the industry is that critical cleaning will continue to be highly valued, bringing that value to those workers who provide it as well.
It Takes A Village
The increased need for more cleaning, more frequently, meant that those responsibilities stretched beyond the EVS technician’s cleaning cart. Everyone became part of the cleaning cycle: teachers were asked to disinfect desks, cashiers wiped down conveyor belts, mechanics sanitized steering wheels, etc. Keeping areas free from germs and bacteria as much as possible required intervention in between custodial or environmental services rounds. As businesses and schools began to reopen, the need for more frequent cleaning activity remained high. The CDC added several new sections to its website[ii] just to address the importance of proper cleaning and disinfection in the community. Germs, bacteria, and microorganisms have always been there; COVID-19 just shown a global spotlight on deadly they can be.
Infection prevention teams and others who’ve worked in acute care settings have been fighting cross-contamination for years. However, the topic of healthcare associated infections (HAIs) rose to importance in 2020 due to COVID-19. HAIs are illnesses that patients acquire while they’re being treated in a healthcare facility.[iii] Many people avoided hospitals in 2020 despite being ill due to concerns over contracting coronavirus while being a patient. In fact, reports of a decrease in heart attacks and strokes were attributed to the fear of COVID-19 as a HAI.[iv]
Along with good hand hygiene and proper disinfection techniques, the use of disposable cleaning tools can help reduce cross-contamination and break the chain of infection. Reusing wipes and mops that have already been exposed to pathogens always carries some risk, since there’s no easy way of determining if they’re 100% clean post-laundering. Many healthcare facilities switched to using single-use cleaning textiles this year as an effective way to help to combat exposing patients to additional viruses or bacteria.
Who Swiped the Wipes?
Supply shortages were the norm for much of 2020. This included almost everything from personal protective equipment for healthcare workers to ordinary toilet paper. Because COVID-19 affected almost every country in the world, it created a domino effect in the global supply chain. Raw materials and finished goods that were supposed to last the entire year were used up in weeks due to skyrocketing demand. Manufacturers were working around the clock to keep up.
“The biggest snags in the supply chain have really been in disinfectant wipes,” said Jim Barch, senior supply chain director for Seventh Generation.[v] The textiles and chemicals needed to make presaturated wipes are also the same materials needed to manufacture PPE, disinfectants, cleaners, and sanitizers. The increased frequency of cleaning during the pandemic reduced the availability of products in both industrial and consumer sectors. While waiting for more raw materials became available, manufacturers were forced to find new ways to meet customer needs.
Talking Heads, Working Hands
Raise your (well-washed and sanitized) hand if you haven’t participated in some sort of virtual event this year. This is the year that introduced kindergartners to the same online meeting system that, up to now, had only been used by executives working in different states or time zones. The use of Zoom, Teams and other digital platforms to communicate became a necessity due to quarantining. When these platforms experienced an outage, however, it often brought work to a standstill.[vi] Organizations like Contec Professional that were able to reach customers, students, etc. through a variety of digital tools and platforms were able to continue providing service when others remained stuck.
COVID-19 will continue to be a big driver of what happens in 2021, but we are cautiously optimistic as vaccines have started to become available. Many of the changes we experienced in 2020 will stay with us, however. The newly developed protocols to ensure proper cleaning and disinfecting will most likely continue to be followed. Virtual and digital communication will only increase in the years to come. But even though the germs never rest, neither does Contec Professional.
See you next year![i] https://www.oregonbusiness.com/article/professional-services/item/19194-clean-slate