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Ships, Planes And Other Spots Are Getting A ‘Deep Clean.’ What’s That Mean?

A member of the custodial staff at Los Angeles' Union Station, taking extra care in the waiting area — all part of enhanced cleaning efforts at major transit hubs in response to COVID-19.
Image credit: Mario Tama

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The Diamond Princess cruise ship. A Georgetown church in Washington, D.C. A Latin American restaurant in Raleigh, N.C. A hotel in Oklahoma City. Two Broadway theaters in New York City.

All announced that they’ve undergone a “deep clean” in recent weeks after discovering that a person infected with the novel coronavirus had been there.

That’s just the tip of a tall stack of businesses and consumer gathering spots that say they are stepping up cleaning protocols.

While cleaning for the coronavirus is not that different from disinfecting for other viruses, like those that cause the flu or a common cold, industries are tailoring the cleaning in keeping with what makes sense for them. Public health officials suggest a few common steps can be used by both businesses and individual households: increasing the frequency of cleanings, using disinfectant products that federal officials say are effective, cleaning “high-touch” spots and making hand sanitizer readily available.

But there is no universal protocol for a “deep clean” of highly trafficked public or commercial spaces to eradicate the coronavirus. Ridding it from smooth surfaces is easier than getting it out of upholstery or carpeting, for instance. And the key to blunting the spread of COVID-19 hinges on good hygiene practices, and a recognition that minimizing the amount of virus spreading in the community is the goal.

“No cleaning protocol is perfect,” says Benjamin Lopman, an associate professor of epidemiology at Emory University in Atlanta. But combining cleaning with other public health initiatives, such as social distancing, he says, “will act in concert, hopefully, in reducing the transmission of the coronavirus.”

Deep cleaning is not a scientific concept and likely means something different to individual businesses or consumers. The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention has issued guidelines for community facilities that have had people with suspected or confirmed cases of COVID-19. It recommends that “high-touch” surfaces be disinfected daily.

But not all forms of infection control are the same. Disinfectants kill or inactivate germs on a surface. Cleaning can remove ― but not necessarily inactivate — viruses, though because all coronaviruses are encased in fatty envelopes, there is good reason to think that the same soaps that break down grease can puncture that outer envelope and inactivate the coronavirus, too. So that’s good news.

Sanitizing refers to lowering the number of infectious agents to a safe level through cleaning or disinfecting an area.

The Environmental Protection Agency has released a list of registered cleaning products that work against hardier germs and are presumed to be good options to fight the novel virus, says Karen Hoffmann, the immediate past president of the Association for Professionals in Infection Control and Epidemiology.

“This virus is actually very sensitive to all the common cleaning and disinfecting agents out there, so that’s the good news,” Hoffmann says.

Businesses, governmental entities and other groups are responding in different ways.

Delta Airlines, for example, now uses foggers to spray a mist of disinfectant on surfaces throughout the cabin on all trans-Pacific flights arriving in the U.S. and flights from Italy landing in certain American airports. It plans to extend the procedure, its website says, to trans-Atlantic flights coming from areas with reported cases of COVID-19.

Other airlines note similar procedures. Southwest Airlines has said it now uses a hospital-grade disinfectant throughout the plane during overnight cleaning instead of its former practice of using that only in select areas like the restroom.

The Carnival Corp., which runs Carnival Cruise Lines, Holland America Line, Princess Cruises and others, says it is suspending cruises through April 9. The company says it has amped up efforts to clean ships, including increasing the temperature at which bedding, napkins, towels and tablecloths are washed and using “electro-static applications through specialized machines” for deep cleanings to be conducted at night.

Many schools are shutting their doors to students, and also promising to clean their facilities to prevent the spread of COVID-19.

A spokesperson for the American Hospital Association says that while frequent cleaning is standard, hospitals are giving special attention to “high-touch surfaces such as in-room phones, TV/nurse calls, light switches and cords, handles, drawer pulls, bed rails, tray tables and bathroom fixtures.”

Sound Transit, which runs a regional public transportation service in the Seattle-Tacoma, Washington, metropolitan area, has increased the number of times it cleans its vehicles, a spokesperson says. The transportation service also says it will be limiting the “hand-to-hand, close” interactions between fare enforcement officers and passengers.

Bay Area Rapid Transit, a regional rail system in the San Francisco Bay Area, is installing hand sanitizer dispensers at each of its 48 stations, the general manager said in a recent board meeting. While six Bay Area counties announced Monday they are implementing a “shelter in place” advisory for the next three weeks, BART says it plans to continue regular service, while increasing disinfecting on the trains and allowing for riders to maintain social distancing on platforms and in train cars.

Washington Metropolitan Area Transit Authority the system that services the Washington, D.C., area, has stepped up cleaning and cut back train service as part of its pandemic response. On Monday, the city’s mayor suspended table seating in restaurants and bars.

Gyms and workout classes, if they haven’t yet closed, are notifying members that they are cleaning handles and flat surfaces in common areas, moving equipment and workstations to create more space among clients and adding time to classes to ensure that every piece of equipment that is touched is wiped down after use.

Even Lime, an electric scooter rental company, sent an email to customers suggesting they consider disinfecting scooter handles before riding. The company also noted on its website that it has increased the number of times the scooters are professionally disinfected and cleaned.

Cleaning may need to be geared to specific surfaces, Lopman says.

What research is available suggests the coronavirus can live on surfaces from a few hours to a few days. Though CDC also notes that “transmission of novel coronavirus to persons from surfaces contaminated with the virus has not been documented.” Instead, the agency says, “spread from person-to-person with these viruses happens most frequently among close contacts (within about 6 feet).”

Kaiser Health News is a nonprofit, editorially independent program of the Kaiser Family Foundation. KHN is not affiliated with Kaiser Permanente.

Copyright 2020 Kaiser Health News. To see more, visit Kaiser Health News.

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