Editor's Note: In this Ask the Expert video, recorded in late October of 2020, Michelle is joined by ServiceMaster franchise owner Nasutsa Mabwa. She discusses the importance of proper ventilation during COVID-19 cleaning and disinfection services, and how her company has been able to help a variety of customers during the pandemic. Stick around for the full video to hear more about Nasutsa's journey into the restoration industry! Below are some highlights from the video conversation!

1. Tell us a little bit about yourself and the background of your Service Master franchise. (How long have you been in business, how many employees, what is your coverage area, etc.) 

I am the owner ServiceMaster Restoration By Simons, a minority and woman-owned family-run restoration and specialty cleaning business, serving the greater Chicago metropolitan area (Chicago, Oak Park and the North Shore) and its outlying suburbs for 8 years. Our MBE/WBE certified company provides high quality commercial and residential disaster restoration and specialized cleaning services. It is important to note that there are very few minority and women owned restoration companies in the Chicagoland area. 

Our expert staff handles both large and small insurance losses and works closely with insurance adjusters, managers, building owners, developers, homeowners, and renters. We also offer specialized structural cleaning, post-construction cleanup, COVID-19 Cleaning & Disinfection, hoarder clean up, duct cleaning, and general cleaning. It is because we are family owned without many layers of management, that we are truly connected to our customers. We are honest, care about the work we do, and customer service means everything! We aim for a 100% positive customer experience each and every time. 

2. Have you been handling COVID-19 cleaning from the beginning of the pandemic? If so, what steps did you take to adopt protocols you knew would work, and keep your clients and crew safe?

In 2020, after the onset of the pandemic, ServiceMaster Restoration By Simons began offering IICRC certified decontamination cleaning & disinfection services to residential and commercial customers at the onset of the coronavirus pandemic. Then, we began proactively disinfecting commercial spaces in preparation of employees returning to work as the City slowly re-opened. Additionally, ServiceMaster Restoration By Simons innovated once again, by offering a new cleaning decontamination system, an antiseptic and antimicrobial service that can actively kill microorganisms on surfaces for up to 90 days. Decontamination essential cleaning & disinfection services and deep cleanings continue to be in high demand as we enter the fall season for a wide range of customers in the greater Chicagoland area. 

We follow very strict donning and doffing procedures for staff wearing their personal protective equipment (PPE) to keep them safe. To date, no employee has been ill or shown signs of COVID-19. While in the warehouse and riding in vans, the employees always wear masks and sanitize or hand wash frequently. We also sanitize our warehouse and work areas and vans frequently.

We are called out for both positive COVID19 cases and also preventative cleaning and disinfection. Our staff don and doff PPE on all cleaning & disinfection jobs just to be safe and of course, we handle proper disposal of soiled PPE. We also only use CDC recommended, EPA approved and FDA registered cleaning disinfectants. Our company internal processes and systems in turn keep our customers safe.

3. Let's talk about what you've learned to be really effective ways to clean, sanitize, and disinfect. Why is ventilation an important component to add?

In July, 239 scientists from 32 countries wrote an open letter to the WHO showing evidence that tiny virus droplets people expel when they cough or sneeze can hang in still air for hours, making crowded indoor spaces with poor ventilation risky for the spread of COVID-19. For COVID19, along with the standard recommendations for routine cleaning such as wiping of high touch surfaces is the monitoring and improvement of indoor air quality (IAQ), specifically the air exchange of a confined workspace in an office or businesses. The standard is to open the doors and windows to allow for “fresh air exchange.” 

An air filter’s minimum efficiency reporting value (MERV) rating measures how effectively the filter stops dust and other contaminants from passing through the filter and into the air stream. Filters with higher MERV ratings trap small particles more effectively than filters with lower MERV ratings. However, the building engineer or facility manager/owner will need to ensure that the air filter has the correct MERV rating for the furnace and air conditioner present. Using the wrong filter can actually damage the heating or ac unit. 

In many high-rise or multilevel buildings, offices do not have windows that open. Where windows do not open, it may be necessary to inquire with the building facility manager about the availability of exhausting as a form of fresh air exchange. In the case that these two options are not available, businesses and property owners may need to consider duct cleaning for forced-air heating and cooling systems. Ducts that are not regularly cleaned likely are caked with dirt and dust and can exacerbate the indoor air quality problem.  

4. Are you still doing a lot of COVID-19 cleaning, or has it slowed down a bit?

We have seen highs and lows with COVID-19 cleaning since we began services April 1st of this year. However, we have not passed 1 week yet without receiving any calls for COVID-19 services. We continue to receive anywhere from 5-10 calls per day about our COVID-19 cleaning & disinfection services from both commercial and residential customers. 

5. Anything else you'd like to add?  

Going forward, cold Chicago weather makes people stay indoors where it’s more difficult to socially distance. Also, as the pandemic continues, some people are beginning to get complacent about meeting in large groups, which has increased the reach of the virus. The upcoming holidays, where people enjoy getting together with family and friends, may well exacerbate the problem.

Another issue is that cold air typically means dry air, and to be comfortable, people tend to turn up the heat which further dries out their homes. This is a concern because in cold temperatures our mucous membrane dries out, making it much harder for the nose to filter pathogens. When airways are dry, it allows the virus to have easier access to the body. So, it's best for people to remain vigilant, practice social distancing and frequent hand washing. 

Lastly, we provide a service to people that are at their most vulnerable when they call us. We provide restoration and cleaning and recovery services to people when they are at their most vulnerable. In itself, we have to take the most care and caution that we treat people with care, respect, kindness and sympathy. People are at their weakest after a major loss and look to us for guidance, support and care during traumatic events. It takes an ethic and kindness and spirituality to treat people kindly in their moment of need and to be truthful and honest and to not take advantage of customers. As former social workers we were required to take countless ethics classes and we continue to operate our company with the same ethical values.