Jim Mellett discusses sanitation process changes due to COVID-19



According to custodian Roger Whitcomb, pictured above (right), there are currently four custodians in the building cleaning. So far no one has gotten sick.

Since the outbreak of COVID-19, the high school has had to adjust in many different ways, including changing their cleaning procedures. Responsible for these procedures are the custodians, who stay at the high school until 10:30 p.m. cleaning. Senior custodian Jim Mellett provided more information on how COVID-19 has affected the sanitation process.

How have your cleaning processes changed?

Our processes have become more focused on touch points and killing potential viruses. We do a lot more spraying than we used to, and we have an electrostatic gun [a device that uses electrostatic technology to spray disinfectants]. If we had a lot of students out with the flu last year in December, we would go into a deep cleaning regiment in which we’d clean all railings, doorknobs, and we’d let the numbers dictate when we do that. But now we’re doing that daily, and we’re hitting a lot of areas more than once a day. We’re going around the school and wiping a lot of areas that we wouldn’t be wiping on a regular school day because there would be way too many students and teachers. It’s unfortunate that there’s fewer people, but it allows us to do way more than we would have been able to otherwise.

What does the cleaning process during the day look like?

We’ll go through the restrooms while kids are in class. We don’t spray anything with the electrostatic gun––we’ll use a different kind of cleaning––and we’ll wipe all the touch points in the restroom because they’re going to get a lot more contact. Then we’ll wipe down high-traffic stairwells and doorknobs. But people are getting used to it––you know, don’t touch anything you don’t have to touch.

What does the cleaning process look like after school?

When the second shift comes in at 3 p.m., we still have a handful of students and teachers here, so we do our basic trash removal and bathroom restocking. Most people are gone by 6 p.m., so we start spraying and all that. We really pick that up after the [custodians] come back from dinner, because after 7:30 p.m. everyone is gone. So now the building’s locked, and we’ll go around and spray down all the door handles, classrooms, doors to the stairwell, desktops, chairs, fixtures in restrooms. Once you spray it, you have to let it air dry for 10 minutes to be effective. You have to let the chemicals work, so everything is really specific––you can’t just go and pour something on and hope for the best. You have to make sure you have the right ratio, and you’re doing things in the right order.

What was your timeline in terms of when you started coming back into the school?

Some of us never left. Some of us were told to stay home, but you know we still had construction at the high school, so we needed some people coming in because the construction didn’t stop. We had extra guys come in for the professional development days, but probably the middle of August was when everybody came back. The school custodians actually went around and helped disinfect the police station, the fire station and the police cruisers. We didn’t have all the kids coming and going, so we had some leeway to help out with other departments. There was a point where a couple guys were furloughed, but for the most part everyone was here for the whole time.

What personal protective equipment do you have?

We’ve always worn gloves because we’re dealing with trash and such. We’ve always had goggles that we wore when we were doing other things, but now we wear them a lot more. We now have hazmat suits that some guys choose to wear to protect their own clothes, and we have face shields that last year we would never wear. Some guys choose to wear a gown, which is kind of like what you’d wear to a clinic, that you can dispose of, so you could also put that on if you had to spray something. Or if you’re going into a room where you know somebody was infected, where there was a positive case or an assumed positive case, you always want to take a little extra precaution. We had access to masks, and you would wear them during certain projects, but now we wear them all the time, and we wear different masks when we spray. We have the regular cloth masks that you can wear during the day, and then we have an N-95 mask with a filter on it.

Do you see any long-lasting impacts coming from the changes that have occurred?

Well, a lot of practices I think are good. It seems weird to me that you still have to remind people to wash their hands on a regular basis, like that’s something we shouldn’t even think about. Hopefully, by next school year, we can be almost back to normal. You know we’ll probably still be wearing masks, and it’s probably not a bad idea to not shake people’s hands, try to keep your distance, all that stuff will help you not get the regular flu. So, a lot of good things have come out of this that I think we should keep doing, but I’m hoping this doesn’t last forever. I felt bad for the seniors last year, but they did get a sort of graduation. I hope this year’s seniors get the chance to walk across the stage. But the way things are looking, it’s still a coin toss.