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The COVID Safe Workplace and How to Validate Your Cleaning Effectiveness

Uncategorized May 17, 2020

Good afternoon. My name is Dr. Cameron Jones, and I'm an environmental microbiologist. And on this week's live stream, I'm bringing to you what I think is a very important topic, because for all of us doing social easing or quarantine, it's about to change. We're going to go into something called a ‘new normal’. And as businesses are being encouraged to reopen slowly, there's something called COVID safe workplaces, that we need to take into consideration.

And I want to discuss this topic about how all of us need to be mindful as we re-enter the workplace and the workforce. And so that is the topic of today's live stream. And essentially I want to focus on one particular aspect of how businesses need to start thinking about validating themselves. And double checking that their cleaning regimes and protocols are actually disinfecting the air and surfaces, as best they can, so that all of us reduce the risks that go on when we go back into these workplaces.

And because at the end of the day, it's good that we have all been socially distancing for the last couple of months, but it's necessary for the economy that this all starts up again. And the risk now is that there'll be second and third waves of infection. And so we certainly don't want that. And this is what I'm going to be focusing on today. And unfortunately, today has actually been pretty bad, certainly for Australia. And when we check these statistics of the COVID-19 diagnosis, we can see that today there have been 30 new cases.

And so, although we are all about flattening the curve to reduce the impact of the infection on our health care services, this isn't good to see these spikes popping up. So yesterday there were 14, but today there are 30 across Australia. So we really need to ask, is this the beginning of a second wave? Or is this just a statistical variation? And it is very, very likely that over the coming weeks, months, and maybe even years, we're going to see the changes in these graphs going on.

Now, all of us certainly in Australia, would be aware of Scott Morrison, our prime minister, and what he's had to say about the roadmap to moving towards a COVID safe Australia. And this is all about businesses reopening in a staggered, or a staged way. And really the point of that is that high risk businesses are going to open last, and that people are going to move from extreme social distancing to spending more time with one another, within the businesses and workplaces.

But there is a very important requirement for all businesses and workplaces, and that is to pay particular attention to their hygiene. And hygiene is fundamentally important to this, and it's a topic that I talk about a lot, and we're going to be focusing today on surface hygiene in the main, because it's the one that all businesses can take control of and be proactive about.

Now I've put this image up on this slide because the chief scientist for the World Health Organization has stated that unfortunately the SARS-CoV-2 virus is really going to be around for quite a long time. And in her estimate, it would be a four to five year time frame. And no one really has a crystal ball. We don't know what's going to happen. We don't know how long it's going to take till we get a vaccine. We don't know about what treatments are going to come online, and certainly emerge in the academic and research and medical literature's. And so the infections could get a lot worse. And we can't underplay that fact.

Now we need to talk about some of the SARS-CoV-2 facts and figures, because this really underscores or underlines what I want to talk about today, and how you can use this information pro-actively in your own business or workplace. And so we really need to talk about something called replication competence. And this is the replication competence of the virus. Obviously we've all heard concepts like certain temperatures the virus is more or less stable, at certain relative humidities the virus is more or less stable.

What are we actually talking about here? Well the virus stability is how it can remain in a sense replication competent. That means it can go on to actually cause an infection inside another cell, and for our purposes that's inside us. So when a symptomatic or an asymptomatic person coughs for example, and releases these droplets, or by speaking, it's this issue of how long does the virus remain capable of causing illness? And that's something which underscores today's talk and discussion.

And so we know from the academic literature, from modelling studies, as well as very carefully controlled lab studies that the SARS-CoV-2 virus can survive in the air for 3 to 16 hours. We also know that it can remain viable on surfaces for at least 7 days, maybe longer. But this depends on how smooth or rough the surface is, and also on the type of material that the virus particles land on. And these are the aerosols, and we've talked in other live streams about the presence of mucus, and the fact that the increased salt concentration in the mucus can allow the virus to remain viable, or have replication competence, for a lot longer than if it's just in water, for example.

And so this issue of viral RNA being shed into the environment, obviously it's from droplets spread, coughs and sneezes, but there is an important other transmission mechanism, and that is via fecal shedding. And some great research that's just come out this week has been focusing on very young children, and the replication competence, or how long the virus remains in shed feces. And it's quite a long time. We're going to talk about this. So there's this issue of toilet plumes. So when bathrooms are flushed, that water which takes the feces and excreta away into our plumbing system, some of that does become aerosolized, and is spread quite effectively within bathrooms.

And this means then that surfaces, particularly horizontal surfaces, can easily become contaminated with this virus containing matter. And so we need to be mindful of that as well. So we're talking on surfaces, something about high touch items. And high touch items are like our mobile phones, for example. The door handles, I'm going to give you an example of this in a minute. Other high touch surfaces are ATM machines, the menus in fast food restaurants. Money, for example, and there's something called the T zone on our face, and because we can easily inoculate ourselves unknowingly, because we touch our face so many times. It's one of the main reasons why hand hygiene is so important.

And so again, I want to mention that in a workplace, be it your business, or someone else's business, or where you go to work, or shops and retail, or entertainment areas, all of them have a range of different surfaces. And the replication competence of the virus is very different depending on these surfaces. Again, we've got high and low touch surfaces. So most of us can sort of work out that things like our mice, computer keyboards, are high touch surfaces. But we mustn't forget the low touch surfaces as well, such as the tops of bookcases, file folders, books in libraries, all of those types of examples are low touch objects, and they need to be considered as well.

And so the key metrics to take away are that on paper, the virus remains competent for approximately 3 hours. On wood and cloth and clothing it's about 2 days. On plastic, 3-7 days. On stainless steel, like my lab benches, approximately 2 days. And on cardboard, 8 days. Now, how are we going to make or maintain a COVID safe workplace?

Well, obviously written policies and procedures. This is just 101 business procedures for most businesses, but you are going to need to write down how you are maintaining hygiene. Not just in those businesses that have a food safety plan, or perhaps a liquor license, or that sort of thing. But all businesses need to take this seriously, and write down written policies and procedures for how they are managing the hygiene in the workplace for all stakeholders.

Now, secondly, I can't stress this enough. It is important to undertake a hygiene audit. And yes, you can do these yourself, or you could get experts to provide some consultative assistance as well. But a hygiene audit, essentially what this is, is a way of checking up on the cleaners, checking that they're actually doing a good job. Checking that the correct disinfectants have been used at the correct concentration, and that they are doing a careful diligent job to remove physical dirt and debris. And then disinfect or sanitize suitable surfaces. You don't want them missing things, and racing through their jobs. So this concept of a hygiene audit is very, very important.

Now, the next point is that you need to be doing a cleaning validation check. And the larger the workspace or workforce, the more important, and the different methods that we're going to cover. And one of them is molecular method, which is the real time qPCR (RT-qPCR), which is a polymerase chain reaction (PCR) method. It's a very effective and sensitive method for actually measuring whether or not the virus is present or absent on particular surfaces. And in fact, we're going to spend an entire livestream on molecular methods of testing workplaces, and all for the presence or absence of the virus.

But today we're going to be doing something which all of you have access to, and all of you can use, and that is using optical brightness, or invisible inks, gels or powders, often called fluorescent agents. And these are going to be used to demonstrate that a particular workplace is, or is not clean. And I think that is a fantastic piece of science, because it's taking advantage of how ultraviolet light can reveal the presence of a particular element. And in this case, it is the fluorescent whitener. And so what we're going to be doing is I'm going to be showing you how you can apply this fluorescent whitening agent.

And these are typically found in laundry powders, and in different paints, and glues, and a whole lot of manufactured products where you need a bright material. And so they add these to them. But we're going to use it to actually show how you can deposit this, or purposefully put it into the area that is going to be cleaned. And essentially it's going to look invisible, but under ultraviolet light, you'll be able to see if it's been removed. And this is really the acid test for whether or not the cleaners have done a really good job.

Because if you can detect it, that means that the disinfection probably was not okay. And you're going to probably need more staff training, education, improve the monitoring of the cleaners, or possibly even change the cleaning company. So this particular demonstration is something that I did actually live yesterday with A Current Affair (TV Show). A Current Affair came into my lab just here, where I am now. And they asked me a couple of questions about the probability of paper packaging used for a particular fast food outlet, whether or not this could cross-contaminate other individuals.

And basically I'm going to show you another aspect of this, and you can all certainly read this, how this method has been used to demonstrate the transfer onto paper packaging. But I really want to focus attention on the fact that using these fluorescent brightness is really to check that the cleaners have adequately removed, or gone over those particular surfaces. So in any case, I'm going to move to my next camera now, and you will see that I have up on screen here, some white powder, which is the optical brightener. I also have a fluorescent Stabilo, because you can actually do this with a Stabilo as well.

And I'm going to show you how you can go around your workplace or work site, and you can actually get yourself a UV light. And I'm going to talk about a trick that you can do in next week's live stream, to actually do this much more effectively, without buying anything, but for now just using an ultraviolet light. Now, these are the ones that are found in nightclubs, which will make white objects fluoresce. And I'm going to show you how you can use this. And so what I'm going to do is I'm going to kill the lights. I'm going to try not to disconnect my mic, and I am going to get this up. I'm going to firstly show you what this looks like under ultraviolet light. Bear with me while I move over.

Okay. If I actually put some of this onto my hands now, you can see that that is quite clearly fluorescing under the camera. Now I just want to demonstrate this issue of cross-contamination. So when I now turn the lights back on and put my hand under the light, you might be able to see a little bit of powder, but the intention here is that this is going to simulate what a cough is going to look like. Now, if I now move over with one of my other cameras, you can now see my door handle. So if I go over here and I just open this. That's to simulate what it's going to do if someone's coughed and then they touched the door handle, you can now see when I turn the light, that that is going to fluoresce up quite nicely here. And I'm just going to move the camera over here to show you this quite clear fluorescent reaction.

Now I've had to take the camera off the tripod, and I'm just going to zoom in on here. And you can actually see now that that was invisible before, but with the UV light, you can see that this is quite clearly visible. Now I'm back at my seat, and I'm just about to show you what my hand looks like. So basically this simulates me coughing onto my hand. When I turn the UV light back on, you can clearly see that it is fluorescing. So the problem with the fomite or surface level contamination, is that when I pick up my phone, I'm just proving that it's not contaminated now.

When I touch it with my hand, and then go to talk on the phone, this is exactly what happens when we pick up our phone, pick it up again, touch ourselves, pick it up like this, we're transferring all of this to the objects. And then we can easily transfer the contamination onto ourselves. I'm not sure if it's picked up any on my face, but this is then how we can end up getting quite contaminated, really quite quickly. And as I said, we do touch our faces an awful lot.

And so in closing, I want to say that fomite and surface contamination is a really big problem. As we are moving towards developing and implementing COVID safe workplaces, we need to be very aware of obviously hand hygiene during the reopening process. But we need to check up on the cleaners. Checkup how efficient they are, and make sure that we're not exposing ourselves to additional risks. In any case, I'll see you next week. Stay safe. Bye for now.

YouTube Link:


Melbourne McDonald's remains open despite being at the centre of a COVID-19 cluster.

Jones, C.L. (2020). Environmental Surface Contamination with SARS-CoV-2 - A Short Review. Journal of Human Virology & Retrovirology. 8(1): 15-19.


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