Knowing the difference between theater and effective strategy is essential for healthy operations
Recent news from the CDC has caught the media’s attention and led to headlines calling for an end to “Hygiene Theater” and curbing the “obsessive cleaning of surfaces.” In a CDC telephone briefing, Vincent Hill, Chief of the Waterborne Disease Prevention Branch was widely quoted saying that "CDC determined that the risk of surface transmission is low, and secondary to the primary routes of virus transmission through direct contact droplets and aerosols."
Interpreting CDC comments like this as a call to end enhanced cleaning protocols would be a misstep for facility service leaders. Effective cleaning and disinfecting strategies should be built on – not dismantled. Many cleaning programs were cut drastically prior to COVID and had to be rebuilt during the pandemic. This put facilities at a disadvantage when the pandemic first hit. Cleaning for health is a long-term strategy that can help save businesses money, increase productivity, build employee and consumer trust, and enhance the overall safety of operations.
The CDC is expected to continue to modify recommendations throughout this recovery period – a May 13th update to its mask guidelines states that people who are fully vaccinated against Covid-19 no longer need to wear masks or physically distance, indoors or outdoors in most circumstances. As CDC recommendations continue to evolve, it’s important that facility managers evolve their programs in a careful, measured way, looking ahead and not back to programs and strategies that leverage cleaning for health.
Defining Recommendations for Commercial Facilities vs. Home
In many media reports, there was no differentiation between the guidance for cleaning a private home versus cleaning for commercial facilities. Facilities that serve the general public, or support a workforce - such as supermarkets, hotels, office buildings, warehouses, or others – still require cleaning and disinfection, especially if there has been a person with confirmed or suspected Covid 19 infection in the past 24 hours and up to 72 hours under certain circumstances. In fact, the CDC continues to recommend regular cleaning of high touch point surfaces, at least once a day or more in shared spaces depending on certain conditions, including:
High transmission of COVID-19 in your community,
Low number of people wearing masks,
Infrequent hand hygiene, or
The space is occupied by certain populations, such as people at increased risk for severe illness from COVID-1
Now is the time to build on public awareness about cleaning and health. Cleaning for health is likely to persist as a major driver for how consumers and employees feel about public or commercial spaces. Independent research via IRI shows 99% of American shoppers feel safer at stores that provide sanitizing stations, and 40% of Americans will go out of their way to shop at a retailer that provides such stations.
Vigilance Against A Broad Range of Threats
Effective professional cleaning for health programs moves beyond simply cleaning more; they consider facility type, the concentration and flow of people utilizing a facility, and the various surfaces and materials used throughout. Programs, like these, specifically tuned to an operation, can be efficient and effective against a wide-range of pathogens such as C diff, Noroviruses, Staph infections, Influenza, and other viruses and bacteria that can spread through surface contact. According to the CDC, Methicillin-resistant Staphylococcus aureus (MRSA) can survive on some surfaces for weeks and can spread to people who touch contaminated surfaces. The CDC has outlined specific chemicals and delivery methods for facility professionals to combat this and other pathogens. While the risk of spread may vary based on a number of factors ranging from the surface type, the amount of contaminant on the surface, how long it has been there, the temperature and more, the processes and chemicals that can and should be used to create a hygienic environment are well understood by cleaning professionals.
Creating Positive Business Impacts
As people return to public life, increased spread of other illnesses beyond COVID is likely to increase. According to SHRM, 9 in 10 employees admit going to work sick. This behavior not only spreads illness, but also results in costly lost productivity through what is called presenteeism. Business News Daily reports that:
The American Productivity Audit estimates that presenteeism costs the U.S. economy $150 billion in lost productivity every year.
Overall, poor health costs US employers $530 Billion and 1.4 Billion workdays of absence and impaired performance. And while cleaning for health will not eliminate the spread of disease, reducing this number by even a small fraction would pay for effective cleaning programs that reduce the spread of harmful pathogens and create healthy spaces for customers and employees.
Staying Safe with Professional Programs
To be effective, facilities need professional programs administered by experts. A key takeaway from the recent CDC guidance has highlighted the dangers of overusing or misusing chemicals. Chemicals that are applied incorrectly, misused or overused can be harmful. In the hands of professionals, however, their use can be minimized, and their impact and benefit fully realized. Facility service managers should work with trained professionals to ensure the safe and effective use of chemicals. This can actually help reduce the amount of chemicals used and reduce the risk to the public.
For example, electrostatic sprayers can significantly reduce the amount of chemicals applied to surfaces and, because they charge particles, chemical distribution throughout a facility is controlled. These technologies were widely adopted during the pandemic, but their continued use responsibly by professional, trained cleaning personnel can be effective against a wide range of pathogens and reduce exposure to chemicals.
Another example is spraying cleaning solution on a microfiber towel at the correct distance (as opposed to directly on the surface). This simple step performed by a trained cleaning professional reduces the amount of chemicals used, enhances personal safety, and increases the efficacy of chemicals.
Essential for Today and in the Future
These are just a few examples of how a professional cleaning and disinfecting programs can lead to safer, healthier practices within a facility. Utilizing professional services ensures that cleaning is not theater, but an essential and real way to improve health, increase efficiency and drive productivity. The pandemic exposed the risk of dramatically reducing cleaning budgets, and as companies look to reduce their spend on this line item, it’s important to not lose sight of that in the process. Those companies that focus on rebalancing their cleaning program to align with the current guidance, re-opening occupancy trends and employee and customer expectations. Looking ahead, facility managers have the opportunity build on programs for long-term health operations during this critical period of reopening and beyond.