10 Things we've learned about COVID-19 in buildings

10 Things We’ve Learned About COVID-19 in Buildings

Pinchin has been providing COVID-19 incident response since the pandemic began to appear in Canadian workplaces, and have been able to provide management plan development, communications and training services to our real estate and facility management clients.  Based on this experience and the rapidly changing landscape around the issue, we want to share some of what we have learned with our clients, colleagues, and industry partners:

  1. Identify High Frequency Touch Points
    The focus of any proactive cleaning or incident response is to identify the areas and surfaces that people have frequent contact with.  Identifying these in a thorough way, is best accomplished through a detailed interview, or by observing actual building use activities.  Building use activities can vary depending on type of building, the time of day, and occupant loading.

  2. Surface Viability 
    Research and related news articles indicating that SARS-CoV-2 ribonucleic acid (RNA) can be detected for 4 days on stainless steel or 17 days in a cruise ship cabin is misleading.  RNA is the “DNA” of a virus, and a component of the molecular structure that can remain intact long after it is no longer considered infectious.  Archaeologists keep finding dinosaur bones, that doesn’t mean that they still roam the earth!  The actual viability of SARS-CoV-2 under normal indoor environmental conditions, is expected to be much shorter, likely in the scale of hours to days.  More research and expert opinions in this area are needed for greater certainty.

  3. Scope Definition is Everything  
    It is not necessary to clean every square inch of a building. We may only need to clean high frequency touch points, as these surfaces are most likely to be a vector for transmission. Thorough, but pragmatic scope development is important to save our clients’ money.  Feedback from leaders in the real estate and facility management industry is that cleaning costs related to COVID-19 response are higher than they expected.  It is important that decision-makers and cleaning contractors alike are aware of the objectives of the cleaning process to understand the value of the work performed.  We’ve found that by evaluating where an affected individual worked in a building, we can delineate the cleaning process into higher and lower risk zones, thus saving time and reducing costs.

  4. Manual Cleaning > Fogging 
    Electrostatic fogging is not a replacement for manual cleaning of surfaces.  It is important to thoroughly apply disinfectant to surfaces and for those surfaces to remain wetted for the prescribed contact time (typically ~10 minutes) in order for the cleaning process to be effective.  If a fogger is a helpful tool in meeting these cleaning objectives, and it can be used safely, then by all means use one.  The MSDS and product cut sheets for most of the products suitable for electrostatic fogging application indicate the cleaning and removal of any residues is necessary to reduce any potential exposure to occupants. Visible residues left behind after the disinfectant dries are not representative of “clean”, and can result in occupant concerns and perception issues.

  5. Registered Disinfectants
    The list of products approved specifically for COVID-19 cleanup, on the Health Canada website, is limited. The products that restoration and cleaning contractors have available are typically not on this list.  In general, where a product specifically approved for COVID-19 is not available look for a disinfectant with Health Canada Drug Identification Number (DIN), which is referred to as a “broad spectrum virucide” or with a specific claim related to effectiveness against Coronaviruses. A “broad spectrum virucide” will make claims to kill non-enveloped viruses including Adenovirus type 5, Bovine Parvovirus, Canine Parvovirus, and Poliovirus type 1.

  6. Re-occupancy Will be Challenging 
    When the spread of the virus decreases to a rate where public health restrictions are loosened and businesses resume occupancy of buildings , we will not be returning to workplaces as we knew them.  Aspects of health surveillance, physical distancing, scheduled occupancy, personal hygiene and pro-active cleaning will need to be implemented and documented for several months.  Communication and awareness of these new requirements will be essential to keeping building occupants healthy and safe.  Pinchin is currently developing a framework, process and tools to support re-occupancy of buildings in this new reality.

  7. Everybody Needs an Agile Plan 
    Managing the risk of COVID-19 in buildings is a dynamic task.  Understanding how occupants interact with the building environment, public health requirements, proper cleaning and health screening are critical.  Figuring out how to operationalize all these requirements requires knowledge of COVID-19 risk factors, as well as the specific building and occupant’s usage patterns.  All of these factors have been changing rapidly and require an agile approach to implementation.

  8. Base Building Cleaners 
    Property management firms are often relying on their base building cleaning companies to undertake COVID-19 cleanup work.  In some ways this makes lots of sense as these cleaners are often very familiar with the building.  In our experience however the cleaners do not necessarily have the appropriate respirator fit testing or training for the necessary PPE. Where a confirmed case of COVID-19 is present the PPE is important to protect workers. Should you choose to have your regular cleaners undertake this work they may need additional support with respirator fit testing and other protective measures involved with COVID-19 cleanup.

  9. Insurance
    Commercial insurance for pandemic and COVID-19 response work has proven to be hard to obtain.  Prior to entering a contractual agreement with vendors for consulting or cleaning services, it is important to understand the insurance coverage, terms and conditions and indemnities for COVID-19 work.  Vendors who perhaps you have relied on in the past for janitorial cleaning, building restoration or consulting services, may not have the required coverages to pursue this type of work.  It is important to have discussions with your COVID-19 response team partners to ensure that your risks and liability are adequately covered.

  10. Cleaning Effectiveness Verification 
    The most effective way to validate that the cleaning is completed to a high standard, is to engage a qualified professional to observe the work.  At this time, resources for commercial SARS-CoV-2 testing are very limited. Total bacteria and adenosine triphosphate (ATP) sampling can be conducted as an indicator of cleaning effectiveness. However, it does not offer any technical assurances that SARS-CoV-2 is no longer present on a surface. For best cleaning results, hire a qualified person to scope the work, a qualified contractor to execute it, and a third party to oversee the work and make sure it’s done properly, using the proper PPE, products, and techniques.

Pinchin’s team is available to support essential service providers, facility managers and the real estate industry at large in effectively managing COVID-19 in buildings.  Our objectives as a team are to maintain building operations, respond to incidents, communicate with stake holders, and get our clients back to business-as-usual promptly when this is all over. 

For further information on how we can help you and your business during this time, please contact your local Pinchin team or call us toll-free at 1-855-PINCHIN (746.2446).

We are all in this together.  Stay safe!