Since the COVID-19 pandemic began, cleanliness and sterilization have been the main tools for stopping the coronavirus' spread. Custodial and cleaning employees are essential to keeping buildings and homes sanitized. Here are a few stories of the many custodial and cleaning staff who are keeping Charlotte safe and clean.
Brandon Brown Keeps His Magnet School Clean
Brandon Brown has worked on and off as a custodian for nearly 14 years. He returned to custodial work in November at Cochrane Collegiate Academy. Throughout the years, he worked in Northeast Middle School, Mint Hill Middle School, Windsor Park Elementary and UNC Charlotte.
It’s easy to practice social distancing while working as a custodian in a school, said Brown.
"Everyone has their classrooms and bathrooms throughout the day," he said.
He and the other custodians clean 20-22 classrooms a day in addition to bathrooms. Brown has noticed that cleaning and sanitizing his school has become more difficult since the coronavirus outbreak.
"We have to make sure that teachers are in a comfortable environment so that the teachers can teach and students can learn," Brown said.
As a custodial worker, Brown has said he has experienced moments when people have talked down to him because he is a custodian.
"Before the pandemic hit, people were bashing and dogging custodians thinking we were less-than," Brown said. "But now they're starting to see how important the custodial field is."
One day, Brown was cleaning a room when students started throwing things on the floor while he was cleaning.
"I looked at the teacher and said, 'You're not going to do anything?' And they said, 'Well, that's your job,'" Brown said, "I went to the head custodian and told them what happened, and he said he couldn't do anything. I went to the principal, and they said they'd work it out, but at the end of the day, it was the same result. But I talked to that individual, they got to know me and understood where I was coming from, so there was respect between us."
He’s proud of his work and his role in keeping everyone safe.
But safety concerns don’t end when the job is done. Brown's wife is disabled, so he takes extra steps to protect them both from contracting COVID-19. He’s constantly washing his hands and wears protective gear while cleaning the school.
Outside of work, Brown is the CEO and is the founder of Single, Saved and Serious Movement or SSSMovement, where he creates T-shirts, jewelry and participates in panel discussions. Additionally, he made a documentary where single Christians talked about their experiences.
Cliffton Washington Cleans An Elementary School
Cliffton Washington has been employed as a custodial worker for 10 years and is currently at Greenway Park Elementary in Charlotte. He works with two other custodians to keep more than 25 rooms, including the principal's office, sanitized.
Washington said his job hasn’t changed much since the pandemic began, except the children are not in the school and there are few teachers in the building.
"We have to wipe down all the classrooms, spray down the handles, and instead of checking the bathrooms once or twice, now we check the time at least three to four times daily,” said Washington. “We wipe down the doorknobs on the hour."
The mask he wears not only helps protect him from COVID-19 but also from the harsher cleaning materials that could inflame his asthma. He was concerned about the effect the materials would have on his asthma, so he stopped working for two months back in the spring.
Washington misses the students. The time would go by faster when they filled the building.
"We miss the interaction with the kids," he said. “They're our bread and butter, so to speak, and we cater to them, mostly."
Despite being passionate about his school, the children and his work, Washington believes that custodians are not appreciated for the work they put into their buildings.
"We clean, sanitize while dealing with kids and teachers," said Washington. "We only have three custodial staff — only three — while cleaning after 600 to 800 kids that come inside the building. That's all our responsibility as far as cleanliness goes."
Washington said that custodians are on the front lines and had to do additional cleaning over the summer because of the virus.
"We have to deal with America's future," he said. "We have to deal with the children."
Besides cleaning, Washington said many custodians go above and beyond their job description.
"We interact with the kids," he said. "We read to the kids, help with school programs and athletic programs after school. That's why we're not called janitors anymore. We are called custodians because there are a variety of things we do. We don't just clean anymore. We do so much more.”
Washington says there are procedures in place for when students return, but he believes social distancing will be impossible because “kids will be kids.”
Elizabeth Cannon’s Business Keeps Homes Clean
Elizabeth Cannon owns and operates Two Maids and a Mop. Since the beginning of the pandemic, she has been keeping a close eye on news and updates regarding the virus.
"I had been watching all of the news coming out of China for a while,” said Cannon. “So, I had sort of had it in the back of my mind that ... this big wave is coming toward us. So, I had it in mind about a month before it hit here."
Immediately after the virus came to the United States, Cannon said she noticed a significant drop in business.
To better serve her customers and protect her staff, she immediately upgraded the quality of her cleaning materials.
Additionally, all Two Maids and a Mop employees received personal protective equipment.
Cannon’s business cleans homes and offices. To make sure her customers are comfortable, Cannon made sure she was in constant communication with her customers about her safety protocols.
Cannon made sure her employees weren’t the only ones going into multiple homes a day during the pandemic.
"There's 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,” she said. “It took me thinking through our protocols and how I would feel the safest going into multiple houses each day and to keep myself as well as the clients safe."
Cannon said she is happy to say that about 80% of the clients she initially lost are back. Few are still hesitant about having cleaners in their home or business due to health concerns, but she is glad that many are asking for services again.
Dante Miller joined WFAE as a Report for America Corps Member in 2020 in the unique partnership with the Charlotte Mecklenburg Library using radio, web stories and Wikipedia to fill news deserts.
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