How Hospitals Stay Clean During the COVID-19 Pandemic

Hospitals are always committed to keeping their facilities clean and sanitary to prevent the spread of disease and infection among patients and staff. But now, during a pandemic, they’re taking extra steps to prevent the spread of coronavirus disease 2019 (COVID-19).

We talked to UNC Health experts in infectious diseases, environmental services and patient transport to learn more.

Same Disinfectant but Extra Cleanings

Hospital cleaning staff use extra-strength disinfectants whether there’s a pandemic or not. But right now, they are conducting more frequent cleanings.

“We use a hospital-approved and EPA-approved disinfectant on all surfaces that kills all of the potential pathogens we worry about seeing in the hospital setting, which would likely be even stronger than what people would use at home,” says Emily Sickbert-Bennett, PhD, director of UNC Medical Center Infection Prevention.

Cleaning with a disinfectant is very effective against coronaviruses.

“All of our regular cleaning and disinfection routines are appropriate for coronavirus, which is actually one of the easiest pathogens to eliminate with disinfection,” Dr. Sickbert-Bennett says.

The Environmental Services team at UNC Health has doubled its number of cleanings in public areas of the hospital such as the emergency department, lobbies, waiting areas, public restrooms and corridors.

Instead of cleaning a common area twice in an eight-hour shift, it’s cleaned every two hours, says Orlando Reyes, director of Environmental Services for UNC REX Healthcare. This includes sweeping, mopping, cleaning restrooms, and wiping down chairs, counters and other high-touch areas.

Housekeepers clean inpatient rooms twice per day. On the first cleaning, housekeepers empty the trash and restock supplies. They return later to clean, sanitize and disinfect the room.

“We provide staff with consistent training,” Reyes says. “Patients and co-worker safety is our No. 1 goal, and our staff does an outstanding job keeping our hospital clean.”

Separating Patients

Hospitals separate patients with COVID-19 from other patients to avoid the spread of the virus.

“The first step is identifying which patients are the COVID patients, and so there are a lot of processes in place within our electronic medical record system that help us screen patients based on signs and symptoms and help alert us when we need to use different precautions,” Dr. Sickbert-Bennett says. “When we have confirmed symptomatic COVID patients, we are admitting them to locations in the hospital separate from other patient areas.”

Hospitals also take great precautions in the emergency department to separate patients with suspected COVID-19 from other patients.

Special Care During Patient Transport

Hospitals also are taking additional steps to ensure the safety of patients if they need to be moved from one part of the hospital to another, such as from their rooms to the radiology department or lab for testing.

These steps include making sure patients and staff wear masks and practice good hand hygiene. At UNC Health, the transport team has added a cleaning station to its equipment storage area.

“When equipment such as stretchers and wheelchairs are returned to our area, it is wiped down before and after each use,” says Ernest Kittelberger, manager of the Centralized Transport Department at UNC REX Healthcare.

In addition, patient transporters practice physical distancing between themselves and others in the hospital and receive new masks every two shifts. Pharmacists no longer come to patient floors to review medication with patients before discharge. Instead, the pharmacist meets the patient at the hospital entrance as the patient is departing.

And when a patient needs lab work or other testing, those departments use the transport request function in Epic, an electronic medical records system, to let transporters know when to move the patient so only one patient is in each area at a time.

“We make sure that we get all the information needed,” Kittelberger says, “so that patient can be transferred safely to the next destination.”

For the latest information on COVID-19, visit the CDC website and the UNC Health COVID-19 Resources page, and follow UNC Health on Twitter, Facebook, Instagram and YouTube.