Over the past few years, there has been a deconstructionist approach to the way we talk about cleaning. We’ve seen cleaning as a way to promote sustainability, safety, technology and automation. Today, the focus is on health.

At the time of this writing, the world has undergone some very long days. The World Health Organization declared COVID-19 a pandemic. The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention updated their guidelines for cleaning to address the virus. We’ve watched major colleges and universities across the country cancel classes. The NCAA canceled March Madness and Major League Baseball has postponed its season.

Hitting closer to home, Clean Buildings Expo has been postponed to August, and Janitor University, the educational course taught by my company, canceled its upcoming session for the first time in its 27 years. Knowing the amount of funding that goes into these events, and the loss or postponement of income that organizers are going to face glosses over a much more crucial issue. What will happen to the cleaning workers who will lose income as a result of closures? What will happen to the workers who either fall ill or have family members to care for, but still need to cover mortgage or rent, healthcare or food? That’s an estimated 2.5 to 3 million people in the United States who will be profoundly affected by this crisis — financially, socially and even physically.

The daily cleaning of our facilities is a crucial function of public health, which is a term that is often used broadly and is misunderstood. Most people have a narrow definition — one that revolves around the prevention of disease and for our purposes, perhaps killing pathogens with disinfectants. It usually stops there, but there’s much more to it and now’s the time to gain a broader perspective.

Public health, essentially, is a scientific discipline that focuses not only on the prevention of disease, but also aims to develop strategies that create and maintain human well-being. Much of the academic literature that the profession of cleaning has relied upon for advancement has come from, at least in part, a public health discipline.

Sometimes it takes a tragedy to give progress a nudge. It’s unfortunate, but it’s true. Over the past two decades, we’ve watched as cleaning budgets seem to be arbitrarily cut by 10, 15, and sometimes as high as 20 percent to fund other initiatives — or to respond to a seemingly more critical need.

In 2001, funds shifted from custodial budgets to help support new security initiatives in response to 9/11 — and cleaning humbly adapted. In 2008, operating budgets were slashed in response to the great recession. These adaptations forced most cleaning operations into a lean mentality and many were faced with the seemingly daunting task of cutting costs while maintaining a high level of service. Now is the perfect time to show the world the importance of the work that you do, and that it’s worth every penny.

While there is a sense of apprehension in the air currently, it has been refreshing to see the nation come together and acknowledge the importance of cleaning and the people who perform cleaning work. It’s one of the only times in recent memory where the world seems to be uniting to thank the professional cleaner for the job they do — and not merely tell them what to do.

With that in mind, this is our time to shine — no pun intended. The current pandemic is going to provide management teams of cleaning operations a solid opportunity to not just participate in the conversation, but to lead it. I truly believe that and I believe in all of you. Stay safe.

Ben Walker is COO at ManageMen, Inc., a leading cleaning industry consultancy specializing in training, transitions, auditing and educational materials. In addition to his consulting work, Walker is the author of ISSA’s best-selling book: 612 Cleaning Times and Tasks. He can be reached at ben@managemen.com.