NORTHBROOK, Ill.—May 21, 2020—In this edition of Straight Talk with Jeff Cross, Dr. Gavin Macgregor-Skinner of the Global Biorisk Advisory Council (GBAC), a division of ISSA, discusses vacuuming in facilities from an infection prevention standpoint during the COVID-19 pandemic.

Hospitals and nursing homes have a surprising amount of carpet, and a concern with vacuuming is that it could aerosolize bacteria and viruses like COVID-19 that have settled onto the carpet. Vacuuming protocols must be examined from an infection control and cross-contamination lens to ensure that these risks are mitigated.

Dr. Macgregor-Skinner notes that many facilities have used vacuums to pick up dust and debris without thinking about how to minimize the risk of infection. During the COVID-19 pandemic, some facilities have stopped vacuuming altogether for fear of aerosolizing the virus, and those facilities are becoming quite dirty, so we must find a safe way to vacuum.

Dr. Macgregor-Skinner says there are many knowledge gaps around vacuuming, including about the use of HEPA filters, whether or not they are effective against SARS-CoV-2, the best type of vacuum to use, and the best time of day to vacuum. Training and education are needed to resolve these gaps. One training tool he uses is smoke near a running vacuum to demonstrate how the air moves through and around the vacuum. That visualization then leads to a discussion about how vacuums might contribute to moving virus particles throughout an environment, and how to address that problem.

This discussion around cleaning and vacuuming for infection control in healthcare settings is not new, but Dr. Macgregor-Skinner says it has not been well thought-out in the past and is receiving much more attention during the current COVID-19 crisis. Today, facility managers need to consider what PPE should be used when vacuuming, has the staff been trained in proper use of PPE, have they been trained in cleaning and disinfecting the parts of a vacuum, what type of vacuum should be used, and what time of day vacuuming should happen.

“There’s these simple, fundamental questions there that need to be addressed through training and education, which I think the GBAC STAR program will be focusing on, but it’s about consistency and taking things to scale and not just doing it because it’s what you used to do,” said Dr. Macgregor-Skinner.

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