Custodial Staff Fight the Coronavirus Alongside Health Care Workers in Residence Hall

Ryan Lanxton, Writer

With the transformation of the First Street Residence Hall into a temporary living facility for medical workers, custodial staff at UM-Flint are now tasked with combating the coronavirus alongside them.

Called “Healing Heroes,” the former student dorms at the Residence Hall now offer a place for health care professionals in Genesee County to live and rest while also maintaining separation from their family for fear of spreading the virus.

However, that means those who work in the Residence Hall, such as custodial staff, are now at risk as well.

Tasked with cleaning the hall and rooms within, custodial staff have been equipped with a myriad of equipment to help protect them, such as tyvek suits, face masks, respirators, gloves and booties.

“Before a custodian can go into a room to clean they are in full PPE gear,” said Lois Martin, the interim custodial manager for UM-Flint. “The general cleaning in the building itself they wear whatever PPE that they feel comfortable with but are required to wear gloves and masks.”

While some equipment has been hard to come by, so far every staff member has received the appropriate gear to stay safe. Some materials have been items donated to them from various people and organizations. 

Many of the staff’s tasks have remained the same, such as sanitizing surfaces and cleaning rooms. However, their amount of cleaning has increased and many tasks are done twice as much.

Ruth Powell, a custodian who works in the First Street Residence Hall, said the staff has been following closely with CDC guidelines and has received proper training to handle the new situation.

“They’ve [custodial managers] been terrific at making sure that we have everything that we need and that we’re not putting ourselves in harm’s way,” said Powell. 

There are approximately 20 health care workers living in the Hall but that number can fluctuate each day. Part of the training the staff has received includes following CDC recommendations to let surfaces sit for three days in order to let the virus die.

“Once a guest moves out of a room we then let the room sit for a minimum of one day but generally three days before we send our custodians in to clean. When the guest moves out they leave the windows open for extra ventilation before cleaning,” said Martin.

Powell said some aspects of their job have actually become easier since the people they are caring for–healthcare workers–are usually hygienic and cautious of contamination anyway. 

Despite the increased risk in their work, Powell said custodians have not received any pay increase for working in these potentially hazardous conditions. “I wish I was, but no,” said Powell.