Who Cleans And Disinfects Charlotte During A Pandemic?
Brandon Brown works as a custodian at Cochrane Collegiate Academy. He’s been a custodial worker for 14 years.
With students in virtual learning, he's cleaning a nearly empty school. But there are still teachers in the classrooms, and to keep them safe, he spends his days going from classroom to classroom wiping everything down. He’s also cleaning bathrooms -- even lockers -- and making sure air vents are clean to prevent the transmission of COVID-19.
This pandemic has not only changed the way he does his job, it has also made him aware of the importance of staying safe for himself and his wife and kids.
“I keep my mask on,” Brown says. “I always have my gloves on. So, just making sure that my wife is safe because she's disabled. You know, I'm very protective of my family.”
He also gets temperature checks, and custodians do not clean in close proximity to one another.
The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention says the coronavirus primarily spreads person-to-person. But it is possible to get infected if somebody touches an infected surface and then touches their eyes, mouth or nose. Since the pandemic began, cleaning has been a priority -- which is undoubtedly evident by the lack of bleach available in most stores.
Dr. Katie Passaretti is the medical director for infection prevention at Atrium Health. She says the steps Charlotte-Mecklenburg Schools is taking to protect workers like Brown lower the chance of custodial workers getting COVID-19.
“If they’re not wearing the appropriate kind of personal protective equipment and don’t wash their hands … there is a possibility (of infection),” Passaretti says. “It is much less likely than sharing direct air space. Appropriate personal protective equipment for cleaning peoples is just as important as it is for health care workers.”
At Charlotte Douglas International Airport, custodial staff disinfect high-touch surfaces like ticket kiosks, handrails and those iconic white rocking chairs (which are still available to use in terminals).
View this post on Instagram Taking in a good book while sitting in a rocking chair is a familiar sight at #CLTairport. What are you reading today? #NationalBookLoversDay A post shared by Charlotte Douglas Intl Airport (@cltairport) on Aug 9, 2020 at 4:58am PDT
“The challenge in that is that we see a lot more passengers than the other airports do,” said the airport’s chief operating officer, Jack Christine. “That means that we need to be extremely vigilant in how we address cleanliness of the facility."
And for a place that operates 24/7, Christine says the 300-person custodial staff plays a huge role in keeping the facility safe.
“We thank them tremendously for everything that they do, but in a time like this where cleanliness is so important, it does bring focus to the folks who do that here for us at the airport,” says Christine, who adds the airport is providing employees with protective gear ranging from masks to face shields.
Traditional, personal cleaning service companies are also adapting to a COVID-19 world. Two Maids and a Mop owner Elizabeth Cannon was ready to keep her staff and customers safe.
“There was no way that I was going to ask them to go and clean during a pandemic without showing them that I was going to do the same thing,” Cannon says. “It just really took me thinking through our protocols, and how I would feel the safest, going into multiple houses each day.”
They lost a lot of customers in the beginning, but now, as people are feeling more comfortable having outside people in the house, business is picking up.
“The first thing we did was we wanted to make sure that we got our hands on really great cleaning chemicals," Cannon says. "We were already using hospital grade.Then it was the implementing all PPE for all of our employees.”
And Cannon still isn’t sitting back and sending her staff out by themselves.
Cornelius Smith, who has owned CKS Cleaning Services for 30 years, says he is also going out.
“It's my business and to be honest with you, every job that we contract out to do, I actually put my hands on it,” Smith says. “I either run a machine or I do something. I'm one of those hands-on type people.”
His business has adapted and grown during the pandemic as more people wanted sanitized homes and businesses.
“It just seemed like every week we would add a new business,” he said. “ It just kept going. It seems like we went up like, I'm gonna say 50% from where we were before the pandemic hit.”
He’s not afraid about contracting COVID-19. He was even game to clean up the unit of somebody who had the virus.
Back inside Cochrane Collegiate Academy, custodial worker Brandon Brown has noticed that he has a stronger bond with the teachers. He feels everyone is more sensitive to each other’s needs, and recognizes that everybody’s job is important.
"We're more than just cleaners," he says. "A lot of us are entrepreneurs outside of doing our work. So we're not custodians 24/7 We have community activists and community leaders. So there's a lot of gifts and talents outside of cleaning and I think more respect than we get as custodians.
With the students gone, everyone is getting to know each other more as people. And Brown hopes that when the kids return, the bonds being created now grow even stronger.
Alexandra Watts joined WFAE as a Report for America Corps Member in 2020 in the unique partnership with the Charlotte Mecklenburg Library using radio and Wikipedia to fill news deserts.
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