Businesses separating workers, cleaning to remain open amid virus

Editor’s note: This article has been updated to clarify the types of work Tvsdesign has been hired to perform. The company advises clients on indoor air quality, but does not clean air vents.

Among the cascade of closings because of the coronavirus, many Atlanta businesses and organizations are doing what they can to remain open or prevent the spread of the virus once they reopen.

Some are splitting workers into separate buildings or taking extra precautions handling waste from employees and customers. Others are getting professional scrubdowns, like the one Buckhead Christian Ministry, a food pantry and thrift store, ordered as it was closing last week.

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Jan-Pro Cleaning Systems in Marietta, which is disinfecting Buckhead Christian Ministry’s property, received more than two dozen inquiries last week about its premium services, said president Brad Rush. It typically completes about six premium jobs a month. Businesses from day care facilities and churches to restaurants and heavy-equipment dealerships have called.

“Our biggest challenge is keeping chemicals in stock,” said Rush, who ordered 160 gallons of a cleaning chemical last week, enough to cover 1.7 million square feet of office space.

In one premium service, Jan-Pro applies cleaning chemicals with a sprayer with an electrified nozzle that disperses the liquid as a mist, allowing the cleaner to penetrate behind and underneath furniture. Its most thorough service, and the costliest, is equivalent to a hospital emergency room cleaning, which includes deep cleaning of carpet, furniture upholstery, computer keyboards and more, Rush said.

Other businesses are taking less drastic steps, but ones that could remain in place even after the coronavirus crisis dissipates, said Katie Dasgupta, an associate principal at the Atlanta architecture firm Tvsdesign. Businesses have hired her firm to advise on improving indoor air quality and to design restrooms to more easily dispose of sanitary waste.

“We’re taking design inspiration from healthcare environments and thinking about how the design of workspaces can encourage health and wellness,” she said.

Companies that operate around the clock and can’t have employees telework have divided workers among different buildings, said Jason Howard, a commercial real estate attorney at Alston & Bird.

“If one group of people is infected, it doesn’t affect all departments,” Howard said.

If businesses don’t occupy buildings with unused space to move worker groups into, they can sublease units in other properties or contract with co-working providers, said Daniel Levison, CEO of SharedSpace, which operates two co-working sites in Dunwoody and Smyrna. A co-working space could allow worker teams to hold one-time, in-person meetings, he said.

“We’ve got 24-7 access to our sites, outfitted with all the technology, and it’s all based on short-term leases,” Levison said.

Some businesses have adopted the strict guidelines that healthcare providers must follow for waste disposal, said Elise Paeffgen, an environmental attorney at Alston & Bird. Non-medical waste should be double-bagged and wrapped tightly, and it should be stored in an inaccessible area until it’s picked up, she said.

For waste that may be contaminated with blood or other bodily fluids or has been used by someone positively identified as having the virus, businesses can contract with firms that specialize in hauling medical waste, Paeffgen said.

Businesses should consider these steps even if they don’t think their office has been contaminated, she said.

“In light of all the public attention to the coronavirus, there’s legal liability for not correctly disposing of waste and also reputation risk,” Paeffgen said.

At Buckhead Christian Ministry, Crisp said their goal is to make the working space safe for its 18 full-time employees and for visitors, which include many people who are vulnerable to the virus.

“We have a client base with a lot of older people, and some of our clients are homeless and aren’t the cleanest,” she said. “We’re doing what we can to be responsible.”