- - Monday, May 11, 2020

As states gradually reopen, governments and private businesses need to take precautions to keep citizens safe. People will have to wear masks, stay at least six feet apart and do one more thing that’s vital but too-often taken for granted: Clean and disinfect surfaces in public and commercial spaces.

That’s a big job and a call to action, but it can be done.

Disinfectants can kill COVID-19. As long as the cleaning is frequent and follows guidance from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) and the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA), people can be protected from the virus in offices, schools, daycare centers, restaurants, factories and hospitals.

We know which disinfectants work against COVID-19. The EPA has made knowing easy. It’s put the disinfectants that it has approved for use against COVID-19 on List N. Four years ago, disinfectant manufacturers worked with the EPA to accelerate the availability of disinfectants during public health crises. As a result, since the start of the coronavirus outbreak, 400 products have been added to this increasingly important list.

In addition, makers of disinfecting products are doing everything they can, including working around the clock, to ensure there are enough disinfecting products to protect against COVID-19. So far, disinfectant producers have been able to keep up with the gradual economic openings that are rolling out across the United States. The industry is upbeat about the prospect that supply will keep up with demand.

The federal government has assisted by declaring that deep cleaning of commercial and public spaces is essential for reopening the economy and returning to our daily routines. Disinfectant manufacturers and their workers have been deemed essential critical infrastructure workers by the Department of Homeland Security’s Cybersecurity Infrastructure Security Agency (CISA). Their work goes on as a result.

Still, cleaning workers will need to be hired and trained at a rapid clip. To help that along, the Occupational Safety and Health Administration (OSHA) has published standards for cleaning and disinfecting services in commercial and public spaces. Employers are required to follow OSHA’s mandates and provide proper personal protective equipment.

In addition, proper disinfecting takes vigilance. Dirty surfaces must be cleaned before approved disinfectants from EPA’s List N are applied. Surfaces need to be cleaned often, but there’s no one-size-fits-all interval. That will depend on the type of space, its location, the amount of traffic it gets and the types of materials that need to be disinfected. The more trafficked the spaces are, the more cleaning and disinfecting that’s required.   

Cleaning and disinfecting commercial and public places must be tailored to the setting’s circumstances. The process will vary depending on location, products used and frequency of use of the space.

Airplanes should be disinfected after each leg of a flight. Banking ATMs need to be wiped down more often. Repeatedly used objects in public places, such as shopping carts and point-of-sale keypads, should be cleaned and disinfected before each use. Other objects that need special attention include doorknobs, light switches, countertops, handles, keyboards, toilets, faucets and sinks.

But no cleaning method is perfect. People should continue to social distance, stay home when ill and wear masks when they go out to prevent person-to-person spread of the disease. In some workplaces, shielding between employees might be required. People should also practice proper hygiene, including frequent handwashing with soap and water for at least 20 seconds. Cleaners and disinfectants should be used as their labels recommend and never be ingested or applied directly to the skin.

Cleaning and disinfecting when done together can be effective against COVID-19. There will always be some risk, but a clean environment minimizes the chance of people contracting COVID-19. That’s good news as we slowly make our way back to life as we knew it.

• Steve Caldeira is president and CEO of the Household & Commercial Products Association.

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