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COVID-19

Businesses step up cleaning to keep new coronavirus at bay

Nancy Marshall-Genzer Mar 6, 2020
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A utility service worker for King County Metro deep cleans a metro bus on March 3, 2020 in Seattle, Washington. Karen Ducey/Getty Images
COVID-19

Businesses step up cleaning to keep new coronavirus at bay

Nancy Marshall-Genzer Mar 6, 2020
A utility service worker for King County Metro deep cleans a metro bus on March 3, 2020 in Seattle, Washington. Karen Ducey/Getty Images
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After a shopper tested positive for COVID-19, the North Star Mall in San Antonio closed for a “deep cleaning” this week. The same thing happened at a casino in Oregon. When businesses need to sanitize, they call people like Thomas Licker, the division manager for Infection Control Technologies in central New Jersey.

“We have seen a surge in phone calls and business opportunities,” he said.

Licker’s in what’s called the “bio recovery” business, using hazmat suits and special materials to decontaminate. He said he’s 50% busier than usual.

“Schools, institutions, colleges,” he said. “People are scared.”

There’s no law mandating that kind of deep cleaning. But besides helping keep customers and workers healthy, the extra elbow grease is a good legal defense, according to attorney Melissa Peters with Littler Mendelson. But Peters also says businesses aren’t likely to be sued as long as they’re doing basic cleaning.

“If they are following the guidelines that are being put out by organizations like the CDC and the World Health Organization, I think it would be very hard to find them negligent,” Peters said.

Keith Miller owns three Subway shops near Sacramento and is required by law to provide a safe workplace for his employees. Subway is sending out cleaning reminders. Plus, all of Miller’s workers wear gloves.

“[And] if you scratch your head, touch your face, moved your hat, you have to change your gloves,” Miller said.

Miller says you can only do so much. You can’t wipe off the door every time customers come in, or make them prove they don’t have COVID-19. You can’t make them wash their hands.

He’s telling workers to stay home if they’re sick; they get three sick days a year. The virus keeps him up at night.

“Of course you’re worried about that because then there’s an outbreak at your store, and even if you can’t get sued you’re probably shut down by the health department for a while,” he said. “And yet you haven’t necessarily done anything wrong.”

COVID-19 Economy FAQs

So what’s up with “Zoom fatigue”?

It’s a real thing. The science backs it up — there’s new research from Stanford University. So why is it that the technology can be so draining? Jeremy Bailenson with Stanford’s Virtual Human Interaction Lab puts it this way: “It’s like being in an elevator where everyone in the elevator stopped and looked right at us for the entire elevator ride at close-up.” Bailenson said turning off self-view and shrinking down the video window can make interactions feel more natural and less emotionally taxing.

How are Americans spending their money these days?

Economists are predicting that pent-up demand for certain goods and services is going to burst out all over as more people get vaccinated. A lot of people had to drastically change their spending in the pandemic because they lost jobs or had their hours cut. But at the same time, most consumers “are still feeling secure or optimistic about their finances,” according to Candace Corlett, president of WSL Strategic Retail, which regularly surveys shoppers. A lot of people enjoy browsing in stores, especially after months of forced online shopping. And another area expecting a post-pandemic boost: travel.

What happened to all of the hazard pay essential workers were getting at the beginning of the pandemic?

Almost a year ago, when the pandemic began, essential workers were hailed as heroes. Back then, many companies gave hazard pay, an extra $2 or so per hour, for coming in to work. That quietly went away for most of them last summer. Without federal action, it’s mostly been up to local governments to create programs and mandates. They’ve helped compensate front-line workers, but they haven’t been perfect. “The solutions are small. They’re piecemeal,” said Molly Kinder at the Brookings Institution’s Metropolitan Policy Program. “You’re seeing these innovative pop-ups because we have failed overall to do something systematically.”

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