LAS CRUCES, New Mexico -- In the fight against the spread of the COVID-19 pandemic, the most important thing most of us can do is to stay home, follow guidance on social distancing and hand-washing, and wait for the worst of the outbreak to subside.
But for many essential members of the workforce, this is the time when their expertise and hard work are most needed, and it’s not work they can accomplish from the safety of a home office.
The 120-person crew of New Mexico State University’s Office of Facilities and Services has been working hard – even before most non-essential campus workers and many students throughout the NMSU system were directed to work and learn online for the duration of the crisis – to ensure that campus is a safe, healthy environment when they return.
“With the COVID-19 outbreak, our department is responsible for sanitizing and disinfecting all of our spaces here at New Mexico State University,” said Art Lucero, custodial, solid waste and recycling manager for NMSU Facilities and Services.
NMSU’s Las Cruces campus has 136 buildings, totaling about 5,000,000 square feet of space that must be carefully disinfected and then closed off until employees and students are able to safely return. In coordination with deans, department heads, researchers and staff, cleaning teams are working to sanitize entire buildings at a time.
“We’re going through each building, all the classrooms, the computer labs – restrooms, naturally,” he said. “You name it, we’re disinfecting it.”
Facilities and Services crew members have two processes for disinfecting buildings – a manual process in which they apply disinfectant and leave it in place for 10 minutes before wiping it off, and an EMist system that mists electrostatically charged disinfectant onto surfaces.
“So that means when the droplet hits a surface, it actually wraps around it, similar to powder-coating,” Lucero explained.
The EMist system allows a small, rotating crew of facilities staff to apply hospital-grade disinfectant on up to 54,000 square feet per hour. Once they’re finished with the disinfection process for each room, the crew applies dated labels across the doorframe to indicated that the room or building is sanitized and closed.
“When you walk up to the door, you’ll see that the building has been disinfected,” Lucero said.
Throughout the process, the workers are careful to protect their own health by wearing personal protective equipment, practicing social distancing and staggering their schedules to minimize human contact. Six different two-person teams rotate through shifts on alternate days, and begin the process each day at 4 a.m.
“Every day, I’m hearing about how members of our university community across the entire NMSU system are doing incredible, heroic work,” said NMSU system Chancellor Dan Arvizu. “These Facilities and Services workers are on the front lines of NMSU’s fight to minimize the impact of this virus on our Aggie community, and I’m truly grateful for their dedication.”
Lucero said each person on his team is aware of the seriousness and importance of this work.
“Our saying here in our in our world is, ‘We clean for health as well as appearance,’” Lucero said. “We care deeply about human health, and what we’re doing here is actually protecting all of us and keeping us safe and healthy.”
(Editor's note: This article was contributed by the News Center at NMSU.)