3 QUESTIONS BUILDING MANAGERS NEED TO BE ASKING
The first half of 2020 brought us some strange and uncertain months. When I look back at our cruise in February, I’m amazed at the timing. It was just weeks before the COVID-19 virus became a pandemic. Things have been difficult, and I certainly hope this letter finds you and your family well.
I’m glad to report that my family is doing good. Our eldest daughter, Shelly, teaches school on an army base in South Korea and she began teaching virtually in late February. Dana, our middle daughter, started a new job in Austin at the height of the COVID-19 scare and she’s had to do it all virtually. Meanwhile, our youngest daughter Monica is a hairdresser, and she wasn’t able to do any work for quite a while, though I think she was even busier being a full-time mom.
As for me and my wife, we’re both doing well. We self-isolated as much as possible. There was a period of time where we only left the house to go to the grocery store every two weeks. As we waited for things to open up, I spent my time reading the latest research on COVID-19 and paying attention to what the experts were saying.
I am not an expert on everything involving indoor environmental issues. While I am an expert in indoor air quality, something as complex as dealing with a virus, such as COVID-19, calls for people who are a lot more experienced in that specific issue than I am. That’s why I try to stay informed by listening to a lot of experts in the indoor air quality field who are also experts in viruses and the transmission of viruses to see what kind of research is going on. With this in mind, I have seen that in the commercial sector, there are a lot of new products and services being offered that don’t match the experts’ suggestions.
There is a lot of smoke and mirrors being put out there by people who are trying to make hay while the sun is shining. Three of the big ones my readers need to be aware of are contractors doing cleaning without following up, ineffective post-cleaning testing, and consultants making up problems only they can appear as experts on.
‘How do you know if it’s clean?’
If a building owner or property manager becomes aware that someone who has been in their building tested positive for COVID-19, their first call is often to their cleaning crews. These folks are typically hired contractors. They go in and clean all the surfaces to make sure there are no traces of the virus left. Some building management teams are even going so far as to replace all the air filters after all the other cleaning has been done. This is a wise and appropriate course of action. However, after talking to the building management teams and the contractors who are doing the cleaning, I’ve found that few people can confirm the job has been done correctly.
The contractors will insist that they have done a good job because their people are highly trained. But the reality is that human error is always a factor. Even a highly trained cleaner can make a mistake. Without any follow-up, no one can say for sure if the job was done right. It is possible to test surfaces using adenosine triphosphate (ATP) testing to check for lingering bacteria (more on that inside this edition). Unfortunately, few people are running these tests after the cleaning crew finishes their work.
‘Are you testing for viruses or bacteria?’
This isn’t to say no one is running tests to check for COVID-19 in buildings. However, the quality of many of these tests leave much to be desired. I received a solicitation from a lab I worked with that claimed they had COVID-19 testing available. It sounded promising, so I asked them to send more information. There are DNA and RNA testing kits out there, and I thought this lab was offering that. However, as I read through the paperwork, it was apparent that this lab wasn’t really testing for COVID-19.
They were offering to go into a space that’s been clean, take swab samples, and look for bacteria. The trouble is that COVID-19 isn’t bacteria — it’s a virus. Many labs and consultants are offering this kind of testing. Now, if you can show there’s no bacteria in an area because a space was cleaned well, then you can reasonably assume it was cleaned well enough to remove viruses. On the flip side, even if there are bacteria in the samples, that’s not evidence to conclusively prove there is or isn’t COVID-19 in the environment.
I have received solicitations from several licensed analytical laboratories claiming to test for COVID-19, but when push comes to shove, they’re really just offering the ability to check for bacteria.
‘Why check the garbage chute?’
I have a peer in South Florida who recently published a paper about testing for COVID-19 and health risks associated with high-rise trash chutes. By publishing this paper, he’s become the world’s leading expert on the subject. He’s even developed a way to test those trash chutes to see if they’re contaminated with COVID-19. However, based on current research it’s a pretty big stretch to suggest testing trash chutes is valid.
In order to test the trash chute, you’d have to take two samples from every floor all the way down the trash chute. If you’re in a 35-story building, that can be a pretty expensive process. What’s more, much like the many other tests that are running rampant, I suspect that these samples test for bacteria, not viruses. You’ll always find bacteria in a trash chute. While it’s possible to use RNA/DNA testing to check for COVID-19, this kind of testing is expensive and only recommended for hospitals and medical facilities. It’s not recommended for regular commercial or residential work, and it’s certainly not recommended for trash chutes.
If there is a concern about COVID-19 in a trash chute, then it’s possible to fog the trash chute with a disinfectant that will kill anything that’s in there. If done correctly, this includes mold,bacteria, and certainly viruses. For this reason, testing the trash chute at all is quite unnecessary. If you are concerned about COVID-19 on the walls of a condominium, do you test every wall, or do you treat the walls and go on about your business? We have many folks creating problems where none existed so they can offer solutions only they can provide.
Seeing these kinds of unnecessary problems compounding on top of the problems created by the pandemic is disheartening. However, this doesn’t mean there aren’t a number of positive things we can look to. We’re finding our footing, and the world is learning how to operate in a way that keeps folks safe while making sure we can still function as a society. To quote President Richard Starkey, “Stuff is getting better. Stuff is getting better every day.” (Shout out to all the Kevin Costner fans out there.)
We’re not out of the woods yet, but we’re getting there.