“The only person who comes into the house besides [my wife], Christine, and me is the woman who cleans the house once every two weeks,” said Fauci, the director of the National Institute of Allergy and Infectious Diseases. “She wears a mask and gloves at all times while in the house.”
Although maintaining a clean home is vital to preventing the spread of germs, including those that cause covid-19, the disease caused by the novel coronavirus, the decision to have a self-employed housekeeper or a professional cleaning service come in right now can be a difficult one. If you do decide you need help now that your dustballs are the size of baseballs, and you are fortunate enough to be able to afford to bring in outside help, how can you best keep yourself and your cleaning professional safe indoors in this new environment?
Like everything in this pandemic, it’s a matter of assessing and managing risks. “You can minimize the risk, but you can’t eliminate it,” says Dean Hart, a New York microbiologist and author on the transmission of viruses and diseases. Hart says it starts with both cleaners and residents wearing masks and with getting as much air circulation as possible in the space. Cleaning agencies could offer testing for their staff, especially as it becomes more widely available, plus temperature checks and pulse oximeters. “There are no definites in this business, but there are good ideas,” Hart says.
“It really comes down to your contact with people,” says Brian Labus, an infectious-disease epidemiologist and assistant professor in the School of Public Health at the University of Nevada at Las Vegas. He says you should leave the house when people are cleaning, or at least stay in a separate part of it. “The main mode of transmission for this disease is when one person is coughing or talking out respiratory droplets and another person is breathing them in,” he says.
As for the danger of being infected from your cleaner touching the surfaces in your home? “There is always the possibility, but it’s a minor mode of transmission,” Labus says. “The cleaning person should be cleaning all that away.”
In the early days of the pandemic, most house cleaners lost clients. Some condos or co-ops did not allow cleaners or service people of any kind into their buildings, and some still don’t. The households that employed independent housekeepers had to decide whether they were comfortable having them back, if it was allowed. Some private employers continued to pay cleaners’ regular salaries, although the cleaners didn’t come for many weeks.
It’s more important than ever to communicate clearly with your cleaning professional, Forte adds. If you are hiring from a service, confirm what precautions it is taking and how it is screening workers. “Don’t make assumptions. Maybe you want them to go a bit beyond their normal routine in terms of cleaning, using more disinfectants,” she says. “Make sure they know how to use them and [tell them] that you want the product to sit on the surface for the length of time that is required for the sanitizing.”