Guest Column - February 2015
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Keep Park and Rec Locations Clean and Healthy Year-Round

By Robert Kravitz

The new year does not appear to be having a healthy start. On Jan. 5, 2015, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) declared a national flu epidemic. According to CDC officials, the flu has already claimed the lives of 21 children in the United States, an increase from the same period last year, and hospitalizations for all age groups are up to 12.6 per 100,000 people in the final week of December compared to 8.9 per 100,000 during the same period in the 2013-2014 season.

The flu season normally starts in October of each year and concludes at the end of March or start of April. Very often, the period from January through March sees the greatest number of reported flu cases, and along with them, the greatest number of deaths. And it doesn't only affect children. Each year many adults also die as a result of the flu or flu-related illnesses such as pneumonia, bronchitis and other respiratory diseases.

The first thought park and rec administrators might have in dealing with this situation is to make sure all children using their facilities have been vaccinated. However, even if vaccinated, some children are not safe, according to the CDC. That's because some strains of the virus are not tested nor covered by the vaccine developed each year. Further, and what is often a more serious problem, strains can mutate as the flu season progresses. This means new strains of the virus may attack children who—even if vaccinated—have no defenses against them.

So what can park and rec managers do to help keep the people using their facilities healthy? In addition to educating facility users to wash their hands, to cover their mouths with their arms when they sneeze and cough, and not to use the facility at all if sick, administrators can accomplish a lot by reviewing cleaning protocols, methods and frequencies, and making changes when and where needed.

The Culprits

When it comes to cleaning, our goal is to help minimize the spread of all kinds of diseases. And the first place to start is the largest "touched" surface in the building—the floor. Floors can become very soiled as they are used, and during the winter months when these soils are often mixed with considerable amounts of moisture, the combination becomes a breeding ground for germs, bacteria and disease.

Because children are closer to floors than adults, the likelihood of them touching a soiled floor and then touching their face, nose or mouth is much higher. Children also have more indirect contact with floors, and each time they touch the bottom of their shoes, shoelaces, toys or other items that have been on a soiled floor, the transmission of disease can begin.

What may be a surprise is that some of the traditional ways to clean floors—mops and buckets, for instance—can actually exacerbate the problem. Studies going back more than 40 years have confirmed this. As the mop and cleaning solution are used, they collect contamination that is not removed but actually mopped onto other floor areas.

The same thing can happen when cleaning counters, which are another "high-touch" transmission point in park and rec locations. As the cleaning cloth is used, it collects soils and contaminants. However, just like mops and cleaning solutions, the cloth only can absorb so much before it stops collecting contaminants and starts spreading them.

Hygienic Cleaning Alternative

So, what healthy cleaning choices are available? After all, if you can't clean counters with cloths or clean floors with a mop, how do you clean them? Even more important, how do you minimize or eliminate their role as transfer points for contaminants and disease?

When it comes to cleaning high-touch counter surfaces, one option is to switch from traditional terry cloth cleaning cloths to microfiber. Microfiber performs more effectively, can enhance worker productivity, uses less chemical and water, and according to some studies, removes 99.9 percent more microbes and 80 percent more dust and dirt than traditional cleaning cloths. However, administrators are advised that microfiber can also lose its effectiveness as it is used. To help prevent this, a patented "smart-towel" system has been developed. These towels can be folded into eight numbered quadrants, allowing the cleaning technician to use a fresh and clean quadrant for each surface, helping to prevent the spread of disease.

As to floor care, park and rec administrators are encouraged to use mops and buckets only for "quick cleaning" floors—for instance, if moisture has developed at entries or something has been spilled on the floor. To effectively and hygienically clean floors, "spray-and-vac" cleaning equipment, as it is called by ISSA, the worldwide cleaning association, is ideal. These machines, also known as "no-touch cleaning" or "dispense-and-vac" systems, apply cleaning solution to floors that are then pressure-rinsed. All moisture, including cleaning solution, is then removed using a floor squeegee or built-in vacuum, depending on the system.

While the process may seem more involved than simply mopping floors, ISSA says it is at least 30 percent faster than traditional floor mopping. A lot of this reduced time is the result of there being no emptying and refilling of mop buckets or changing of mop heads, which can take an estimated 15 minutes per changing.

Year-Round Cleaning

Although the flu is a big concern right now, park and rec managers are well aware that taking steps to prevent the spread of disease is a priority in any season. Just as flu vaccines are not fail-safe, the cleaning methods discussed here should not be considered infallible. However, if performed properly and on a frequent if not daily basis, they will prove effective and administrators can rest assured they are taking crucial steps to keep their facilities hygienically clean year-round.

Robert Kravitz is a frequent writer for the professional cleaning, education and healthcare industries.