Custodial Staff Reflects on Protecting the Nest

SUNY Brockport janitors and cleaners open up about what it’s like to work on the sanitizing side of the front lines.

While “Protect the Nest” is everyone’s job this academic year at SUNY Brockport, such a feat wouldn’t be possible without the 85 custodial staff members in Facilities & Planning who work round-the-clock to prevent the spread of COVID-19 on campus.

“Essential workers out there are taking on much of the risk to keep others safe,” said Assistant Director of Facilities Operations Larry Brien, dubbed “The Corona Guy” when the pandemic procedures picked up this past fall.

According to Brien, the typical cleaning routine for Hartwell Hall, for example, would require five housekeeping staff members and about eight hours. This semester, 10 people are working in the building throughout a 24-hour period to achieve adequate disinfecting in addition to standard cleaning.

“They’re coming in every day to carry out a very robust cleaning schedule. It’s a ton of work and sacrifice,” said Brien. “I’m so proud of our people.”

The Port caught up with a few janitors and cleaners to learn what their days are like during a pandemic:

How has your job evolved since the onset of the pandemic?

Cleaner Christy Moyer: “Our job has most certainly evolved and become the center of maintaining a safe environment. What once was a specific routine with direct perimeters has now become a group effort throughout the entire campus. For instance, the overnight teams cover multiple buildings throughout the evening. Each team may have three to four buildings. The scheduling allows us to work with the same individual every night, helping to keep any viral contamination down from within the cleaning staff. There are different ways of cleaning. One is disinfecting (can’t see the germs), another is picking up debris, as well as removing visually seen spills or spots. Disinfecting has become the major focus since the pandemic has started. Each building is unique in specific duties. I work overnights, and we have a spray team. We use a disinfectant and mist spray all sitting areas and touch points within each building. The campus uses multiple chemicals to kill any and all viral agents that may be carried by a member of our community.”

Janitor Juanita Couch: “When the pandemic hit, we took extra measures in making sure that all buildings were disinfected every two hours. We also have to wear masks every day and social distance.”

How has the pandemic made your job more challenging?

Moyer: “The challenge with the pandemic has been to change our focus. Most people look at floors and determine it needs to be cleaned. The pandemic has put into perspective that most communicable diseases will spread through hygiene, touch points, and community property (bathrooms, locker rooms, break rooms, desks, etc.) The floors may appear unattractive and require attention, but we have to focus on the unseen at this time. The entire campus is disinfected every two hours, however, the day and night staff remain in one building and repeatedly disinfect touch points. This has all become a challenge to the cleaning staff, because we have been taught to remove visual debris and spots. Of course the garbage is still emptied daily and the bathrooms checked more frequently. The cleaning staff signs off on a board showing the appropriate attention to that specific area.”

What makes you proud of the work you do?

Moyer: “I feel as though ‘the cleaning staff’ is one of the most important positions in society. We can keep the health care system and societal illness at all time lows, simply by killing the germs, bacteria, and fungi that breeds in infrastructures. Of course, it’s a group effort, because dirt and dust hold these germs. We mask up and social distance as well as change our filtration systems to improve air quality. We do what most people will not do, and it is far from glamorous. I am proud to be an essential employee and needed. This year, ‘the cleaner’ has been appreciated.”

Couch: “It is comforting to know that the extra steps we have had to take to protect the nest have made a huge difference in keeping our [positive COVID-19 cases] down compared to other colleges.”

Cleaner Kellie Weatherbee: “Helping in all aspects, from delivering meals, to cleaning, to being a front line person at Subway. When you can do several jobs and not limit yourself to one, that makes you indispensable.”

What is the most interesting or unique experience you’ve had while at work in the past year?

Moyer: “The unique experience for me has been working in the Gordon building. I could be busy or I could have it real easy, depending on the number of isolated students. Being on the COVID team means I go to various residence halls as well as being made available whenever I get a call to do something. I could have been scheduled after a deep night shift or before I started my shift. I committed to 16 hours a week overtime, and it is a unique experience, because it is not like staying in one building doing the same things for 16 hours. The COVID team is entirely different, however, we are all part of the cleaning staff. We do laundry, deliver food, deliver supplies, and disinfect the dwelling.”

Weatherbee: “Getting to know students on a personal level and finding out that we can have things in common, despite the age gap.”

What’s something you wish others realized about your job?

Moyer: “I wish that society did not look down on our job. Certainly, cleaning does not require a degree, but it does require loyalty. We have to be dedicated to doing something that is not always acknowledged, and effort is put forth on something not always appreciated. Loyalty means ‘Yes, I did disinfect that area.’ and actually meaning it is done. Most career paths require visuals. Of course, housekeeping has visuals, but it requires doing something that looks like it does not need to be done. A sink full of dishes is a visual, however, dish soap does not sanitize. The health inspector looks for washing, rinsing, and sanitizing. If your cleaner is not dedicated and loyal, many people could get sick.”

Cleaning Tips From the Pros

  • The brown paper towels you find around campus are great for cleaning mirrors. — Cleaner Kellie Weatherbee
  • For a clean-smelling bathroom, use a little bleach in your mop water to clean floors and Lysol concentrate and water to clean sinks and toilets. — Janitor Juanita Couch
  • Disinfect while performing another task. Top to bottom cleaning is just that. Never clean a floor then attempt to clean visuals at eye level, because you may need to clean the floor again. — Cleaner Christy Moyer
March 31, 2021