By Jim Flieler

If you are alive in North America in 2023, chances are you’ve had an encounter with at least one of the “tridemic” viruses at some point since Halloween. We’re talking about influenza, RSV and new subvariants of COVID-19 that can’t seem to leave us alone this season. As we leave behind the unprecedented global health crisis that was the COVID-19 pandemic, we are facing a new wave of public health concerns. The flu remains widespread, RSV continues to be a concern and more infectious COVID-19 subvariants seem to crop up every other week. 

Part of the reason we are facing such a public health challenge this year is that we had built up excellent public health strategies in the past that not only helped to curb the COVID-19 pandemic, but also prevented the spread of other viruses, particularly influenza. Now, they are back with a vengeance. What can facility managers do to help curb their spread as we head into some of the coldest months of the winter? Our recommendations below.

Prepare for the Season

Fall and winter have always caused a major increase in the spread of disease. COVID-19 may have shifted our focus to a year-round approach, which we should keep up. But it’s also a great idea to stay ahead of outbreaks in the future by ensuring your facility has a process to amp up its cleaning and disinfecting during the fall and winter months. That means planning for this time well ahead and bringing them into action on September 1, not November 1 — when it is too late. Prepare for today and tomorrow. And don’t forget to have extra inventory on hand, just in case. Supply chain is still not what it used to be.

Hand Hygiene

Hand hygiene is deemed as the easiest, most efficient way to improve employee wellness while lowering the risk of infection. Your facility must have a fully integrated, easy-to-use and well maintained hand hygiene program to keep germs at bay. This will always be your first line of defence. As you train your building occupants to wash their hands frequently, you must also ensure your team members are washing their hands. Did you know that any custodian / janitor or caretaker is a major “transporter” of germs? It is critical that we wash our hands, and do so often throughout the day.

Be Specific

When implementing an infection prevention program, you must have specific processes and procedures outlined for your staff. Otherwise, they may just spray disinfectant willy-nilly, which can lead to compromised safety. Our recommendations for some specific processes to add to your seasonal infection prevention program:

  • Target specific high touch points
  • Validate your PPMs to ensure your disinfectants are diluted properly
  • Always respect the dwell time
  • Follow the Five Critical Security Elements of Disinfecting
  • Increase cleaning frequencies in those high volume, contact areas and touch / transfer points 
  • Validate your work and track your progress
  • Review all training procedures with your custodial team before flu season comes around

Lower the Risk of Cross Contamination 

Office buildings, schools and even healthcare facilities are ripe for cross contamination, which leads to infectious outbreaks. Think of all of the ways viruses and bacteria may transfer on the surfaces and items throughout your facility. Make sure your infection prevention program focuses on these unique points of potential cross contamination. Some additional tips to lower the risk of cross contamination in your facility include:

  • Clean hands assist with clean surfaces.
  • Pay particular attention to major bacteria transfer mechanisms by noting extremely high ATP metre readings.
  • Cell phones in the workplace are a leading cause of cross contamination. 
  • Encourage employee wellness and awareness programs to help stop cross contamination in its tracks.

Protect Yourself and Your Team

During the COVID-19 pandemic, the world learned very quickly what those of us in the cleaning industry knew all along — our custodians are front-line workers and the first line of defence against sickness. Protect your team by ensuring they practise using their PPE. Encourage your team to always be safe and always wear the correct PPE. Stock up on PPE to ensure you have enough goggles, gloves and masks. 

Develop your Facility Outbreak Response

An outbreak is when disease occurs in greater numbers than expected in a community or region (may be a single case). Common microorganisms that may cause outbreaks are Methicillin resistant Staphylococcus aureus (MRSA), Vancomycin resistant Enterococcus faecalis (VRE), Norovirus (Norwalk Virus), C. Difficile, Influenza virus. If you actually experience an outbreak, don’t panic. 

Your Facility Outbreak Response should continue to follow your current cleaning protocol. However, you should add in a High Level Disinfectant based on the threat level and particular strain of virus. Follow the guidelines of the local department of public health and re-visit your Pandemic Response training program.

You are not in this alone. All of us in the cleaning industry and those who work in public health are in this together. Ask for help from industry professionals when you need some advice on how to strengthen your program. Your distributors are an excellent resource. They keep up with the latest outbreaks in your area and should have robust education programs to help you manage the changing landscape. Our new Charlotte Services Program could help. Keep in touch with other facilities in your area and get on the mailing list for the Centres for Disease Control (CDC) and the World Health Organisation (WHO) for extremely accurate information.