Ready to reopen? CDC provides guidance on cleaning and disinfecting businesses, schools and public spaces

by Brianna Crandall — May 13, 2020 — The US Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) is adding frequent updates to its guidance and resources related to the COVID-19 pandemic, the nationwide shutdowns and now gradual reopenings. One of CDC’s latest resources is Reopening Guidance for Cleaning and Disinfecting Public Spaces, Workplaces, Businesses, Schools, and Homes, intended to help individuals prepare for building reentry and continue safe practices once they are back.

The new guidance is intended for any type of facility (links to guidance for specific facilities appear at the end of the document). As CDC says, reopening the country requires all of us to move forward together by practicing social distancing and other daily habits to reduce our risk of exposure to the SARS-CoV-2 novel coronavirus that causes COVID-19.

Reopening also strongly relies on public health strategies, including increased testing of people for the virus, social distancing, isolation, and keeping track of how someone infected might have infected other people. As part of the larger US Government reopening plan, the guide focuses on cleaning and disinfecting public spaces, workplaces, businesses and schools, and can also be applied to the home.

Cleaning and disinfecting public spaces, workplaces, schools and businesses will require you to develop a plan, implement your plan, and then maintain and revise your plan (see CDC’s Guidance for Cleaning & Disinfecting for planning tools).

Reducing the risk of exposure to COVID-19 by cleaning and disinfection is an important part of reopening public spaces that will require careful planning. Each of us has been called upon to slow the spread of the virus through social distancing and prevention hygiene, such as frequently washing your hands and wearing face coverings. Everyone also has a role in making sure our communities are as safe as possible to reopen and remain open, reminds CDC.

The virus that causes COVID-19 can be killed if you use the right products, says CDC. EPA has compiled a list of disinfectant products that can be used against COVID-19, including ready-to-use sprays, concentrates and wipes. Each product has been shown to be effective against viruses that are harder to kill than viruses like the one that causes COVID-19.

The document provides a general framework for cleaning and disinfection practices:

  • Normal routine cleaning with soap and water will decrease how much of the virus is on surfaces and objects, which reduces the risk of exposure.
  • Disinfection using EPA-approved disinfectants against COVID-19 can also help reduce the risk; frequent disinfection of surfaces and objects touched by multiple people is important.
  • When EPA-approved disinfectants are not available, alternative disinfectants can be used (for example, 1/3 cup of bleach added to 1 gallon of water, or 70% alcohol solutions). Do not mix bleach or other cleaning and disinfection products together. This can cause fumes that may be very dangerous to breathe in. Bleach solutions will be effective for disinfection up to 24 hours. Keep all disinfectants out of the reach of children. Read EPA’s infographic on how to use these disinfectant products safely and effectively.

The guidance provides additional specifics for safe and effective cleaning and disinfection, as does CDC’s Cleaning and Disinfecting Your Facility.

Facilities managers (FMs) and others who oversee staff in a workplace need to include in their plan considerations about the safety of custodial staff and others who are carrying out the cleaning or disinfecting. These staff are at increased risk of being exposed to the virus and to any toxic effects of the cleaning chemicals. They should wear appropriate personal protective equipment (PPE) for cleaning and disinfecting. To protect your staff and to ensure that the products are used effectively, staff should also be instructed on how to apply the disinfectants according to the label. For additional guidance, visit the Occupational Safety and Health Administration’s (OSHA’s) website on Control and Prevention.

The CDC document gives guidance on how to develop a plan for your specific facility that takes into account what types of surfaces need to be cleaned and how often. CDC says it is critical that your plan includes how to maintain a cleaning and disinfecting strategy after reopening.

If your workplace, school, or business has been unoccupied for seven days or more, CDC says it will only need your normal routine cleaning to reopen the area, because the novel coronavirus has not been shown to survive on surfaces longer than this time. However, there are many public health considerations, not just COVID-19 related, when reopening public buildings and spaces that have been closed for extended periods. For example, take measures to ensure the safety of your building water system. It is not necessary to clean ventilation systems, other than routine maintenance, as part of reducing the risk of spreading the coronavirus.

CDC notes that some facilities may need to make long-term changes to practices and procedures to reduce the risk of exposure, such as:

  • Reducing the use of porous materials used for seating;
  • Leaving some doors open to reduce touching by multiple people;
  • Opening windows to improve ventilation; or
  • Removing objects in your common areas, such as coffee creamer containers.

Additional steps that businesses and institutions can put into place to help protect their staff and the public can be found in CDC’s Implementation of Mitigation Strategies for Communities with Local COVID-19 Transmission document.

CDC also reminds those returning to the workplace and other public spaces that it is important to continue behavioral practices such as social distancing (specifically, staying six feet away from others when you must go into a shared space) and staying home when sick, and to follow federal, state, tribal, territorial, and local guidance for reopening America.

For more details about how to develop, implement and maintain a plan, and the other areas mentioned above, see the CDC’s new Reopening Guidance for Cleaning and Disinfecting Public Spaces, Workplaces, Businesses, Schools, and Homes. A section at the end of the document provides links to recommendations for many specific facilities.