As some businesses begin to open their doors during and after the COVID-19 pandemic, myriad questions persist about what life will look like in the "new normal." Protecting customers and employees will be essential, and companies will need to adopt new cleaning and disinfecting standards to do so.
Gone are the days of casual cleaning procedures, such as using a single towel to wipe down restaurant surfaces over the course of a shift, says Bud Summers, the executive vice president of operations at PuroClean, a national remediation and restoration franchise company based in Tamarac, Fla. "Things have definitely changed since the pandemic," he says. The National Institutes of Health found that the virus can live on surfaces up to a few days.
While ongoing guidance from the Centers for Disease Control (CDC) and appropriate industry groups will continue to evolve, some key shifts are already emerging. Here are the steps companies are taking now to keep their establishments clean and safe.
A Deeper Clean
Business owners and managers are becoming better versed in terminology and procedures, Summers says. And being precise about the language and level of cleaning is an important place to start. Typical cleaning with soap and water or a cleaning product that does not have a disinfectant will not adequately kill germs. Sanitizers reduce the level of bacteria, viruses, fungi, and other microbes to an acceptable level. Disinfectants kill germs and are regulated by the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA).
The EPA has published a list of disinfectants for use against COVID-19. These can be used for office cleaning, restroom cleaning, and other purposes. However, Summers cautions that the products must be used according to the directions on their label. If the instructions specify that the product must be applied and "dwell" for 20 seconds before being wiped off, removing it sooner may make it less effective. So, following label instructions is critical. Employees should use proper personal protective equipment (PPE), including gloves, and ensure there is proper ventilation in the area to protect themselves.
Businesses should clean and disinfect high-touch areas like tables, doorknobs, light switches, countertops, handles, desks, phones, keyboards, toilets, faucets, and sinks throughout the day.
A New Landscape
Non-porous surfaces are easier to disinfect so that businesses may opt for equipment, décor, furniture, and other necessities with smooth, easily disinfected surfaces. That means more benches or non-porous finishes for seating and fewer cloth chairs. Childcare facilities may eschew cloth toys for plastic. We may see a return to disposable options when possible, such as single-use restaurant menus. However, Summers says that a more disinfected future doesn't necessarily have to mean a less sustainable one.
"My personal hope is that we don't go to more disposable items, but that we look for reusable options that are non-porous and can be disinfected," he says.
Adding Barriers to Disease
The very layout and structure of businesses may change, as well. Many retail businesses have already installed clear barriers to separate shoppers and workers.
Businesses will also need better training to help employees understand enhanced disinfection and safety protocols, as well as how to use disinfectant products properly. Restaurants will likely adopt social distancing in their layout. Masks and gloves will be common.
As we learn more about COVID-19 and how to best operate businesses safely, expect more guidance on disinfecting and decontamination from various agencies, such as the Occupational Safety and Health Administration and the CDC.