Disinfection was the word on everyone’s lips in 2020. Maintenance professionals worked overtime clean- ing, sanitizing and — most-importantly to public perception, at least — disinfecting surfaces. Meanwhile, jan/san distributors scrambled to secure supplies, ran an unprecedented amount of training sessions and helped develop cleaning protocols for every space inside a building.

Now, with vaccination rates rising, COVID-19 infection rates in flux, and a pandemic-weary public ready to get back to normal, will disinfection schedules relax? Distributors weigh in on what protocols are staying, which are overkill and what’s just around the corner (hello supercharged flu season!).

Time To Open

The last year brought a mixed bag of business closures and building occupancy levels. Certain sectors, like grocery, healthcare and manufacturing, never fully shut down. Meanwhile, other organizations shuttered properties and sent their entire workforce home. Schools, colleges and universities were open, closed or a little of both, depending on local rules and conditions.

Despite the differences, getting everyone back to pre- pandemic occupancy levels remains a major priority. Now, there is an actual start-up date within reach.

“The vibe on the street is that large percentages of workers will be back after Labor Day,” says Chris Nolan, president of H.T. Berry Company, Canon, Massachusetts. He predicts that the most densely populated buildings will use a “phased-in approach with employees coming into the office three days a week and working at home for two.”

No matter the strategy, getting everyone back comfortably will take some effort.

“Moving from 10 to 20 percent occupied to 75 percent or more is going to be a challenge,” predicts Nolan. Expect that stress to be shared by skittish office workers, overworked cleaners and distributors already bedeviled by an overstretched supply chain.

“Budgets went out the window in the beginning of 2020. Companies that normally ordered 20 cases of disinfectant now wanted 200,” says Glenn Rasin, chemical specialist and lead trainer, EBP Supply Solutions, a division of Imperial Dade in Milford, Connecticut. This increased demand led to well-documented shortages that are not quite resolved.

“Some products, like black nitrile gloves, are still really difficult to find. Plus, inflation is hitting us hard,” laments Marlen Wells, co-owner of Bloomington Central Supply Co., Bloomington, Illinois.

Despite sourcing and pricing difficulties, the pandemic brought some glimmers of positive change. For example, distributors who were traditionally relied on to ship boxes of supplies are now taking on more of a consultative role with their customers. This is a change Nolan finds refreshing.

“We’ve been preaching about proper cleaning, disinfection and education forever, but now people are really listening,” he says. “The average guy on the street has heard about dwell time and dilution.”

Mainstream awareness of infection control and general cleaning practices like this makes for easier discussions be- tween distributors and their end user customers. Building occupants are driving the conversation and challenging their cleaning executives, which in turn, is getting the attention of higher-level management.

According to Rasin that attention is laser focused on clean- ing and disinfection practices in an effort to create safe and healthy facilities.

“CEOs and executive committees are very interested in what is being done, who is doing it and how,” he says. “Proper training is on the top of everyone’s mind.”

Russ Flug, manager of sales and special markets for Iowa-Des Moines Supply, Inc., agrees. His staff is fielding questions that fall outside the norm, particularly from customers expect- ing to return to 100 percent occupancy. Based on the inquiries, it’s clear that facility executives are doing everything they can to create environments that are safe and cleaned correctly in preparation for occupancy.

A large percentage of Flug’s clients are in the restaurant and hospitality sector. This group is accustomed to a diligent cleaning and disinfecting schedule. But he has noticed a few COVID-inspired changes that are sticking around.

“Some hotels continue to disinfect more frequently,” says Flug, adding that it is a way to make guests feel safer and more comfortable.

He has also noticed increased marketing around these amplified cleaning efforts. For example, hotels have made slight changes to the common tabletop sign identifying the person responsible for cleaning the room.

“Now, those little cards read ‘This room has been cleaned and sanitized by X,’” says Flug. “You would never see the ‘sanitized’ before. It's become a catchword.”

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Infection Control Strategies For The Future