How To Prepare For Infectious Outbreaks
Written and contributed by Heidi Wilcox
As each hour and day passes, breaking news of coronavirus illnesses and deaths spread. With it comes additional details and information on COIVD-19.
The first thing that must be learned here in the states is not to panic. We have very few cases and, as of press time, they all can be tracked back to someone traveling to an area with an outbreak or coming into contact with ill people or carriers of the virus. Some of the new viral cases are traced to students studying in Italy and then coming back to the United States, as well as others from the cruise ships or, again, traveling to areas with large outbreaks. Clusters may start to form as people are not quarantined and healthy people come into contact with exposed or ill people. Just like the flu spreads, coronavirus spreads, too.
The main concern to anyone is his or her proximity to a person who is, or might become, sick due to exposure to COVID-19. This new coronavirus is related to the SARS virus of a few years ago, as well as other coronaviruses. The good news is, it is an enveloped virus, which means to researchers and microbiologist, it is an easy virus to kill.
Although it is making headlines, coronavirus isn't the only virus Americans should be worried about. The "common" flu is still more of a threat than coronavirus. According to the Centers For Disease Control and Prevention, the flu has already killed roughly 18,000 people in the United States.
Thankfully, minimizing the spread of viruses like these should not be difficult. In reality, identifying the virus type on a surface is not even necessary. If someone in a facility has symptoms of (or has been diagnosed with) the coronavirus, flu or norovirus, good green cleaning and an infection control plan must be implemented.
Here are some useful tips on preventing the spread of infectious viruses in facilities:
1. Implement and use a green cleaning program involving third party-certified cleaners and products, as well as the training needed to use these products correctly.
2. Cleaning and disinfecting by hand is the least efficient and most time-consuming way to clean. Studies indicate that spray-and-vac systems or caddie equipment could do the job quicker and better.
3. Properly train employees on how to use chemicals, as well as the hazards that each chemical might present.
4. When it comes to cleaning, disinfecting and sanitizing, the first step — cleaning — is the most important. Cleaning can remove up to 90 percent of soils and pathogens in that soil from surfaces using tools like microfiber cloths, microfiber pads and water.
5. After the cleaning and removing of soils and germs, we want to implement a daily infection control or public health system to mitigate the spread of germs. Good communication between the facility administration and custodial or facility maintenance staff is essential here.
6. A proper infection mitigation system should have written standard operating procedures (SOPs) for all shifts and areas of the facility. Procedures should specify the product to use, the concentration needed, the applicator needed and necessary dwell time. The active ingredient of chemicals should be known, and training on the toxicity and use of the product should be documented.
7. If you don't yet have an infection control system, set one up. Don't worry about having to consult an expert. It is more important to get a system in place than to hide your head in the sand and hope that nothing bad happens.
Heidi Wilcox is an applied microbiologist, presenter, educator and trainer in the cleaning industry. She is also the president and founder of Wilcox EVS, a consultancy specializing in “cleaning and disinfecting for health.” Working in the worlds of science, engineering and commercial cleaning, Heidi examines challenges within facilities and provides solutions to streamline processes and protocols. She advocates for reduced use of synthetic chemicals, which will also decrease hazards and exposures to staff and building occupants. Heidi has been integral in working with facilities to set up proactive infection/mitigation protocols for infection control.
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