‘No One Mentions the People Who Clean It Up’: What It’s Like to Clean Professionally During the COVID-19 Outbreak
When Vanessa is asked to clean up after patients who have the seasonal flu or measles or MRSA in the Pennsylvania hospital where she works in environmental services, she knows what to do. She knows how to disinfect surfaces, what needs to be thrown away and what she should wear to protect herself. But when she’s asked to clean rooms occupied by COVID-19 patients, she’s flying blind. “It’s kind of terrifying,” says Vanessa, who TIME is identifying by first name only for professional protection. Her supervisors told her to clean the rooms just as she would for a flu patient, but she says she’s treating them like she would for more serious illnesses—throwing out nearly everything disposable, mopping the walls and scrubbing every inch—to be safe. “No one knows exactly how to clean it. We don’t know how contagious this is.” At a time when cleaning supplies are invaluable and hand-washing is a national activity, people who clean professionally, like Vanessa, have watched their jobs take on new meaning—and considerable new risks. But what has remained the same, they say, is a lack of respect and, often, inadequate compensation. Vanessa, for example, makes only about $11 an hour for the unenviable job of disinfecting hospital rooms, often without proper protective gear for herself. The fresh N-95 masks still available in her hospital, she says, are mostly going to doctors and nurses; she and her housekeeping coll...
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