It is unfortunate that it took a pandemic such as COVID-19 to awaken the world to the fact that effective cleaning and adequate disinfecting plays a vital role in infection prevention. No longer is it a housekeeping function that suffers when budget cuts occur, but rather, an essential one tasked with saving lives.
While this new essential practice is a plus, there is another side to the proverbial coin that has been exposed by the pandemic, one that should be evaluated closely, especially in academic, office, food service, and other facilities inhabited by people of all ages: Are we overdoing it?
For example, the CDC and other health organizations have determined that the spread of SARS-CoV-2, the virus that causes COVID-19, is far less likely to occur from surface contamination than initially thought. Yet despite this highly publicized finding, the world continues to spray, fog, wipe, and otherwise apply disinfectant to every visible surface, often multiple times a day. Is this necessary—or even responsible? Are we weighing the slim chance of children and others without compromised immune systems contracting COVID-19 against the known fact that certain disinfectants can cause skin, eye, and respiratory tract irritation, especially in confined spaces?
Misunderstood processes and misguided application procedures are also a factor. Do most people know that the CDC recommends NOT disinfecting outside areas like playgrounds or parks as the ability of the virus to live in these areas is next to nil? Similarly, does the general populace understand that when a school or airline says it is “sanitizing,” could it mean that they are using a disinfectant but may not be allowing the full dwell time it needs to disinfect? Are they using disinfectant that needs to be rinsed versus air dry? in addition, does everyone know that applying a disinfectant on a dirty surface is not effective. Sadly, this kind of misinformation and product misuse poses dangers in that it can promote a false sense of security in facility occupants.
Then there are the hand sanitizers. How much is too much?
Especially consider that many name-brand bottles are refilled with cheaper formulas containing who-knows-what ingredients or that have alcohol levels below or above the recommended 60 to 70 percent deemed effective against the virus. Pre-COVID-19, there were already questions about the overuse of hand sanitizers potentially leading to unstoppable “super bugs”. Since COVID, the EPA has banned up to 178 hand sanitizer formulations, calling them unsafe for human use and recommending many are disposed of using hazardous waste methods.
Speaking of waste, let us not forget the environment. Prior to the pandemic, the world was focused and making headway on choosing greener, safer, more sustainable options. Once the pandemic hit, it appears nearly all thought of the planet dried up instantly in favor of using the harshest chemicals that can threaten the health of humans, animals, our land, and our waterways. With this came more disposable plastic—from single use containers to wrapped flatware. Again, one wonders how long it might take before we can refocus on helping ensure our planet remains healthy for our children. There are a lot of safer products effective against the SARS-CoV-2 virus that are greener than others just as there are ways to protect against it without overloading our landfills.
It is recommended that building managers and housekeeping personnel get educated on what works best for your facility, choose products that are the right fit for your building and train the staff on how to use them properly and safely.
For a consultation on a cleaning and disinfecting program that best fits your operation.