Custodial Operations in COVID times - Keeping the campus clean

April 27, 2021

It takes a village to run a university. One group helping to do so is the Yale custodial team. Many of its members haven’t ever seen or interacted with the people whose spaces they clean. Their days began in darkness at 4:00 a.m., entering buildings, classrooms, and spaces, and ended when others were on lunch break. The pandemic changed everything.

Pre-COVID, a typical day in the life of a Yale custodian included cleaning, disinfecting, and removing trash from their assigned spaces and buildings—Monday through Friday. The team also has general building maintenance staff who unclog toilets, change lightbulbs, fix minor issues, and report significant problems like leaks.

Since the onset of the pandemic, custodians were on staff seven days a week, working varying hours. While they still cleaned offices, classrooms, bathrooms, main entrances, elevators, floors, and stairwells, there were new guidelines. Based on the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention’s (CDC) best practices, this included disinfecting more frequently—bathrooms cleaned not once but twice a day, and full cleanings on the weekends. Extra disinfecting was also done. Recently, updated CDC guidance reduced the requirement for additional surface disinfection based on a better understanding of transmission of the virus.*

Many buildings are currently in hibernation mode awaiting the full return of students, staff, and faculty. For those areas, the team checks twice a week for any physical plant issues like leaks, runs the water, and flushes the toilets to keep everything moving. In the past year, as part of the CDC guidelines, hand sanitizer stations are required to be outside of every building entryway, elevators, and large restroom banks. Yale custodians ensure they are full and working.

Another new standard process for the team was using the ElectroStatic disinfectant sprayer. This infection control device uses hyprochlorous acid that is sprayed over surfaces and areas. In the past, these sprayers were used only in areas of viral outbreaks. During the COVID response, they were utilized daily. After spaces were cleaned, this device gave an area the last blast of disinfectant to eliminate any lingering germs.*

Making so many procedural and scheduling changes was challenging. Both managers and staff had to pivot from a five to seven-day workweek. Managers had to plan the workday by socially distancing staff and staggering their schedules. Facilities leadership worked closely with Local 35 leaders to shift schedules and work locations. “Everyone came together, leaders, managers, and the staff,” said Joey Adcock, area manager, Central Campus South. “We all knew how important our jobs are and that we are responsible for keeping people safe, so that research, teaching, and learning could continue.”

Staff members remained flexible. Some weeks, CDC guidelines shifted quickly, and the managers had to alert their teams with last-minute updates. “We had to communicate any changes while keeping people safe, so we had a lot of Zoom or one-on-one meetings and lots of phone calls. Overnight everyone’s routine was upended and schedules and work locations completely changed. It was a challenging, stressful time. But everyone came together, and it is truly amazing what we’ve been able to accomplish,” said Julie Renko, area manager, Central Campus North.

Facilities Operations also worked closely with Environmental Health and Safety (EHS), Lead Administrators, and Yale Hospitality. “In the beginning, Yale sent everyone home. But research continued. We had one department working on a COVID vaccine, said Renko. “The buildings still had to be cleaned. Information about the pandemic was constantly shifting. People were nervous about coming back, and rightly so. We worked with Local 35 leadership and brought in some Hospitality staff to help, whose regular work was sidelined since the dining halls were closed. It was a tremendous effort by a lot of people to keep things going in those early months.”

Without the custodians going in daily and disinfecting the areas, lab research could not have continued. “This pandemic was an eye-opener for all of us. I feel we have a more cohesive, flexible, and strong team as a result. I also believe the people in those spaces really value and appreciate us now more than ever,” said Joey Adcock.

“I’m extremely proud of our Facilities Services team for their dedication and hard work during the pandemic.  While much of the University was locked down and working from home, our custodians were here every day, providing increased cleaning and disinfection that helped keep the university’s critical functions operating in a safe environment. I am truly thankful for them,” said Mark McCloud, Director Facilities Services and Grounds.

*Yale Facilities Services recently received new CDC guidance, and the Yale Public Health Committee’s approval, to reduce disinfections. Facilities Services is now in the process of going back to pre-COVID operations in most areas.

Huge thank you to all the Local 35 custodial and hospitality staff and their families for their hard work, support, flexibility, and dedication during this complex and challenging time.

Below is a photo tribute to some of the many Yale Custodians who helped keep the campus clean during the last 12 months of the COVID-19 pandemic. Thank you to all!