Steps to Take Now Before the Vaccine Calvary Comes was published for client AFFLINK in McKnight’s Senior Care Living Magazine
As we all know, COVID-19 has impacted the long-term care (LTC) industry dramatically. As of the end of November, more than 250,000 people have died of COVID-19 in the United States. While this grim statistic – with the numbers on the increase – is being reported every day, what is getting less coverage is that about 100,000 of these deaths are among people who work, regularly visit, or live in long-term care facilities.
According to Priya Chidambaram of the Kaiser Family Foundation, about 40 percent of the deaths in this country are among the most vulnerable and those that care for them. “The numbers are shocking. If you had told me [last] summer that by Thanksgiving weekend, we would be talking about how over a hundred thousand people have died in these facilities, I would have been very skeptical. We saw cases and new deaths over the summer decrease in long-term care facilities. So, there was reason to believe that what these long-term care facilities were doing was working.”
Unfortunately, looking back, Chidambaram is unable to pinpoint precisely why things were better last summer and what has changed. It is possible, she believes that the virus was still localized at that time, mainly in certain parts of the country. Further, the warmer weather allowed more people to be outside. As we are well aware today, the virus spreads faster and with more impact when more people are indoors.
Whatever the reason, Chidambaram thinks, as do many others, that all safety protocols need to be reexamined to help slow the spread of the virus in LTC locations. One building system getting a closer look is ventilation. Some LTC facilities managers now realize that the air filtration systems in their buildings do not adequately remove pathogens.
The filters typically installed have a Minimum Efficiency Reporting Value (known as MERV) of six or eight. The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention now recommends MERV 13 or higher filters be installed. (See Sidebar: But Can MERV 13 Filters Work in Our HVAC System?)
Another area getting a much close look is cleaning. Most LTC facilities are likely being cleaned and disinfected more thoroughly now than they were a year ago. But, for one reason or another, this may still not be enough. That is why many cleaning contractors, as well as in-house housekeepers, are turning to what are called electrostatic sprayers.
This is one of the most important tools we have in the cleaning arsenal to fight this disease. We’ve probably seen them being used on airplanes. However, there are many questions about these systems, including how they work and why they are so useful.
To help us answer these questions, we turn to Michael Wilson with AFFLINK a leading, distributor-membership organization in the U.S. and marketer of electrostatic systems. His job is to work with distributors around the country and their clients, educating them on how and why to use these systems and realize their benefits. This makes him a perfect candidate to answer the following questions:
Michael, are electrostatic sprayers a new technology?
No. They were invented in the 1930s but mainly used for industrial applications.
What exactly do they do?
They spray, “fog,” or “mist” surfaces with a disinfectant. If the disinfectant is on the N-List, meaning it has been approved by the EPA to eliminate coronavirus pathogens, it should stop the disease’s spread.
Can they be used on all types of surfaces?
For the most part, yes. They can be used on floors, walls, counters, chairs, tables, even wall hangings. However, what is all too often overlooked is that these surfaces must be cleaned first before the electrostatic sprayer can be used. This is usually true whenever we use a disinfectant. The surface must be cleaned first and then disinfected.
When misted, what keeps the disinfectant on surfaces?
Unlike conventional spraying systems, with an electrostatic sprayer, a positive charge is applied to the disinfectant. The positively charged disinfectant is attracted to negatively charged surfaces and wraps around these surfaces, such as those mentioned earlier.
Can the disinfectant be removed by touching or cleaning those surfaces?
It depends on the disinfectant used and the type of electrostatic sprayer used. With some, the disinfectant’s killing power can last as long as 90 days on surfaces and is not removed by touching or cleaning. Because the disinfectant can eliminate pathogens for so long, the process is often referred to as “continuous protection” or “long-term protection” of surfaces from pathogens.
Does the disinfectant used in an electrostatic sprayer eliminate just the pathogens that cause coronavirus?
No. Usually, an antimicrobial disinfectant is used. These are designed to eliminate a wide range of pathogens. An antibacterial disinfectant, on the other hand, is engineered to kill just a few types of pathogens.
Why should they be used in LTC facilities?
There are several reasons. If you are an administrator, housekeeper, or cleaning professional working in an LTC facility, stop reading this article for a second and look around your facility. You will most likely see that there are scores of surfaces that can collect pathogens, and when touched, spread disease. These surfaces are often not cleaned and disinfected, either at all or as frequently as they should be.
For instance, notice the magazines on the table or the books on shelves. These items handled by many people and each time they are touched, they can collect pathogens.
The same is true of the following:
- Walkway railings and ledges of all types
- Remote control devices
- Chairs and tables
- Lamp switches (as well as all light switches)
- Sinks, counters, and faucet controls
- Door handles and surrounding surfaces
The list can go on and on. “But for administrators, there are some other things we should know,” adds Wilson. “Because the disinfectant lasts so long, it means these surfaces do not need to be disinfected as often. This is a labor and cost savings.”
Further, it helps prevent disinfectant resistance, according to Wilson. Just as some antibiotics are proving ineffective because they have been overprescribed, so are some disinfectants. Pathogens have become resistant to them. Using fewer disinfectants will help slow this process.
Wilson also points out that as important as they are, electrostatic sprayers are just one cleaning tool we have today to help slow the spread of COVID. LTC administrators should work with their janitorial distributors, learning about other cleaning technologies, products, and methods now available to help stop the spread of the disease.
He also adds, “Dr. Fauci keeps calling the new vaccines the Calvary, coming to save the day. Well, in some ways, the cavalry is already here — in the form of janitorial distributors.”
Robert Kravitz is a frequent writer for the professional cleaning industry.
Sidebar: But Can MERV 13 Filters Work in Our HVAC System?
The answer to this question depends a great deal on how old your heating and air conditioning system is. Older systems, those more than ten years old, may not have the power to pull and push air through a MERV 13 filter. While adjustments can be made, upgrading to MERV 13 with an older HVAC system can be both costly and complicated.