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Fighting Covid

By Richard C. Vara

Jan. 29, 2022

In the battle against covid and all its variants, it is critical to have a strong front line. Doctors, nurses, and paramedics are all on the front lines trying to save lives and keep us safe. However, there is a special forces team out there that we never think about or give enough credit to. They are the ones who do the truly hard work and the work that most people don’t want to do. It is your everyday custodial personnel. They are the people who clean our offices, homes, schools, and hospitals. When patients who are infected with covid show up to the hospital, sit in a chair, use the bathroom, or are placed in a room, it is the custodial personnel who must disinfect all of the contaminated areas. They place themselves in as much danger of catching covid as any other medical professional.  

For this report, I feel hospitals are a little too obvious of a place to focus on the fight against covid. Let’s look at a highly-populated area where anybody could be a covid carrier. We will explore the inner working of the custodial personnel at the University of Houston-Downtown (UHD).

outdoor picture of the University of Houston-Downtown.
Street view at UHD. Photo by Richard C. Vara

Guadalupe Martinez is the direct supervisor for the porters at UHD and she also has the responsibility of keeping the university’s population safe from covid. She has porters who are solely responsible for disinfecting all areas of the university. From the time they clock in till the time they leave, all they do is disinfect student commons, elevators, computers, tables, and chairs at UHD.

“I have four people who will start on the tenth floor and work their way down.”

That is just the main building, UHD has six buildings on its campus. They also restock all the free mask dispensers throughout the campus. They use two to three boxes a day for a grand total of 6,000 free masks a day for the UHD community. In one week, that is 30,000 masks to help combat covid. 

Blue face mask next to hand sanitizer
Covid prevention at UHD. Photo by Richard C. Vara

Mrs. Martinez also manages another disinfecting team that must knowingly clean covid infected areas. She will be notified by a special code that alerts her to an office or classroom where someone has tested positive for covid. In some cases, an entire department will have to evacuate the infected area and that is when Mrs. Martinez and her team get to work. She will go in first and use a fogging gun to disinfect the floor and workspaces. 15 minutes later the second phase of disinfecting takes place.

“They disinfect the mouse, keyboards, phones, doors, and everything.” Martinez says.

I asked her if her crew members ever get scared to go into an area that has been contaminated with covid.

“Sometimes yes. I will go in first to fog, and I tell them not to be scared. Time has passed and the virus is not there.”

Covid is not a non-discriminating virus and has affected the UHD porter crew by causing shortages in their personnel. This has caused the porters to have to take on double or triple the workload in order to keep up with demand at UHD. However, there are cases where demand has been both good and bad. In 2019 Rachel Limas left her job as a life insurance agent and opened her own cleaning service called “Clean Space Multi-Services.”

Rachel says, “At first it was slow just starting out. Then in 2020 things started to take off and then covid hit.”

You would think demand would have fallen off with allowing a stranger in to clean your home. However, it has been just the opposite

“We have had a lot of people who said we want you to come. We need you to come. It let me know that we are still heavy on people’s to-do list.”

Her bookings have been constant, and her availability is limited, business is booming for Rachel. I asked her about work shortages in her industry and she had this to say.

“There is a shortage regardless of covid. I needed some help a few months ago and I could not find anyone. I don’t think it was due to people being sick. I am in a national group of cleaners and it’s never I can’t find anyone due to covid. It’s I can’t find anyone who wants to work. Cleaning is hard work. It’s the work nobody wants to do.”

According to the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics:

“About 314,900 openings for janitors and building cleaners are projected each year, on average, over the decade. Many of those openings are expected to result from the need to replace workers who transfer to different occupations or exit the labor force.”

I asked Mrs. Martinez what are some things that people can do to help make things easier for the cleaning crew. She had this to say,

“Clean up after yourself. Disinfect your work areas and tables. Throw your trash away.”

Trash on the floor right next to a trash can.
Trash by the trash. Photo by Richard C. Vara

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