In early 2020, facility cleaning programs across the country were upended as teams came face to face with an unknown virus. Since that time, facilities have opened/closed countless times, federal edicts have dictated disinfecting protocols, staffing struggles have plagued departments and budget restraints have slowed progress. 

Facility cleaning managers are still struggling to gain their footing in an ever-changing custodial landscape two years later. Meanwhile, perceived progress is quickly offset by product backorders and the increasing expectations of building occupants   

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Babette Beene
Environmental Services Manager
University of Texas MD Anderson Cancer Center
Houston, Texas

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Michael Jones
Director of Custodial Services
Columbia Public Schools
Columbia, Missouri

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Karie King, CESE, CMIP
Manager of Environmental Services
Aurora BayCare Medical Center
Green Bay, Wisconsin


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Gene Woodard, MREH
Former Director of the Building Services Department
University of Washington
Seattle, Washington

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Facility Cleaning Decisions recently sat down with members of the advisory board to discuss progress made during the last two years, as well as challenges still lingering on the horizon. Here are their responses.  

What are some of the biggest cleaning program challenges you're seeing as we settle back into a more normal routine after the pandemic? 

WOODARD: One ongoing challenge has been the placement and replenishment of hand sanitizer dispensers at high-traffic entrances. It adds to the workload and I don’t see it going away anytime soon. Worker burnout is another major challenge I expect to continue. 

BEENE: Honestly, our protocols haven’t changed. Being a Cancer Hospital, we’re still on high alert. The challenges we’re seeing are still related to staff shortages. We are losing staff to other departments, and finding qualified staff is challenging, but our human resources team continues to work diligently to find solutions. 

KING: I truly do not feel like things have settled back in just yet. We are still dealing with staffing shortages, supply shortages and even COVID-19 cases. 

JONES: Staffing challenges are still our No. 1 issue. Our staff size is down 24 percent, and we are lucky to receive four applications per week. Meanwhile, many businesses in our area have increased starting wages to $15/hour or higher in hopes of attracting candidates. The good news is that the district just announced a $1.15 increase plus a step increase for custodial staff starting in July. 

Have the cleaning demands in facilities changed as faculty, staff, students and building occupants came back to more hybrid schedules?  

BEENE: We still have our increased cleaning protocols in place. The hospital relaxed the visitation rules from previously one family member to two visitors at a time now. As a result, housekeeping is still on the same protocols as if COVID-19 was still on high alert. 

WOODARD: One positive change we’ve experienced at UW is that cleaning and disinfecting is now more of a shared responsibility. Those who are using and/or occupying spaces throughout campus are expected to clean and disinfect those spaces. Meanwhile, custodians attempt to disinfect human high-touch points in public spaces twice a day. 

KING: No, we are still seeing a very busy and robust building, with cleaning being at the forefront of protection for our team members, visitors and patients. 

JONES: Cleaning demands have really come down since 2020. I believe most folks now understand that COVID-19 was viral and constant cleaning did not make a difference. In fact, it probably created more issues spraying constant disinfectant or sanitizer. 

Twelve months ago, cleaning/disinfecting frequencies were at an all-time high. What do those programs look like today and how do you see them progressing as time goes on? 

KING: We continue to clean as we always have — cleaning and disinfecting are critical in our hospital setting. I do not see where we would reduce cleaning processes, pandemic or not. Environmental Services “saves lives” and it is taken very seriously. 

BEENE: At this time, we haven’t changed our cleaning frequencies. The hope is that in the future, we will be able to decrease our cleaning protocols. 

WOODARD: The amount of disinfecting has definitely increased during the pandemic. We have known for a long time that COVID-19 is mostly transmitted via airborne respiratory droplets, versus picking up the virus from a contaminated surface. Therefore, I anticipate a return to emphasizing cleaning versus disinfecting. It will be safer for the cleaning worker and environment in the long run. 

JONES: We have resorted back to our normal cleaning program in the district, still concentrating on the most touched surfaces as before. It will be interesting how our district staff will react if a new variant creates an uptick in cases. 

Personal Protective Equipment (PPE) use was also at an all-time high during this time last year. What safety procedures have now become standard practice and where have you scaled back? 

WOODARD: Previously, face masks were required in all indoor spaces. Today, they are no longer mandatory, but face masks are highly recommended. To encourage safe practices, the department will continue to offer surgical, KN95 and N95 masks to all staff.   

Pandemic procedures also required the donning of protective gowns in spaces where a person was confirmed to have COVID-19 and spent more than 10 minutes. The reason was because these spaces were completely disinfected, and the gowns protected workers from exposure to that disinfectant chemical. There are very few instances when this level of disinfecting is actually needed based on the length of time the positive person was last in the space. 

BEENE: We’re still wearing masks, but we have scaled back from using the face shields on the patient floors. Our staff continues to use the protocol appropriate for the patient room. 

KING: We continue to follow the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) guidelines to ensure we are following best practices. PPE was always part of our safety measures and will remain there. We have not seen any change with wearing PPE.

JONES: Masks are now voluntary in all buildings, but we are still providing PPE to occupants as an option. Visitors and parents are now allowed in our buildings and there are no longer any capacity restrictions for events. Really, we have resorted back to our normal safety procedures. 

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Staffing Struggles Plague Cleaning Teams