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COVID-19 RAQs (Recently Asked Questions)


Visit APPA’s COVID-19 Resources page.




Cleaning/Custodial

How do you disinfect keyboards in computer labs? How are you cleaning hand tools if they are used by multiple people?

According to a recent study published (March 20, 2020) in the New England Journal of Medicine, SARS-CoV-2, the virus that causes COVID-19, can live in the air and on surfaces between several hours and several days. Therefore, it is recommended that the CDC Rules for cleaning and disinfecting surfaces be followed. The study found that the virus is viable for up to 72 hours on plastics, 48 hours on stainless steel, 24 hours on cardboard, and 4 hours on copper. It is also detectable in the air for three hours.

How long before unoccupied spaces can be considered safe for custodial personnel to clean them?  If a space is unoccupied for a month, can it safely be assumed that it will be free of the live virus?

There are several factors to be considered to determine if a space can be assumed to be safe for reentry (for example the types of surfaces in the space, or whether the space was previously unoccupied and sanitized). However, if the space was occupied, it should have open air flow for at least 24 hours before sanitizing, and entry made with the proper PPE (personal protective equipment) if at all possible (i.e., gloves, gown, and possibly masks.) Whenever in doubt, it is best to reclean the space, and always check CDC guidelines and local health departments to determine the latest information availble, as these are still emerging practices.

What is being done with regard to disinfecting senior administrative spaces? Railings, doorknobs, etc.?

APPA recommends following standard incident operating procedures.

What are your cleaning protocols at this time? Are you using Electrostatic disinfection?  Carpet cleaning?

APPA recommends ensuring that you are in compliance with CDC Guidelines and OSHA regulations as well as visiting APPA’s COVID-19 Resource page.

Are there any specific cleaning or sanitizing procedures that can be shared?

Yes, APPA is publishing a series of shared resources on our APPA’s COVID-19 Resource page. We also urge you to share your procedures with APPA for possible posting at communications@appa.org.

Are you basing your cleaning strategies on the droplet transmission or airborne transmission theory of virus dispersion?

From Don Guckert, University of Iowa: “Our public health experts advise us to think in terms of ‘snot’ and ‘boogers.’  This virus is transmitted through moisture particles.  It is not an airborne disease in the sense that dry particles are breathed in.  The latest is that the ‘snot’ dries up in a matter of hours to three days.  Then it is a booger and no longer infectious.  Further, the drying happens faster on cloth and fiber surfaces than on hard surfaces.

“If a custodian is vacuuming a carpet that has a fresh sneeze on it, in our thinking, chances are that the action of the vacuum would mix the ‘snot’ particles with dust particles and dampen any airborne moisture particles.  Even if a particle were to become airborne, it is hard to imagine it traveling far and directly enough to the custodian’s airways.

“My advice is to have the custodian wear a face mask (N95) when vacuuming.  Better yet, if the buildings are primarily empty, cut back on the vacuuming frequency and/or allow a day or two after its been used before vacuuming.  But the bottom line in our thinking is that this is a low risk.”

What is that “critical time period” for how long spaces need to be vacated before they can be considered safe without cleaning?

APPA recommends ensuring that you are in compliance with CDC Guidelines and OSHA regulations.

How do you disinfect keyboards in computer labs? How are you cleaning the hand tools if they are used by multiple people?

APPA recommends following CDC Guidelines for the cleaning, disinfecting, and sanitizing of surfaces and objects that are touched often.

For those areas that are closed to the public, are there additional measures being taken in terms of containment to maintain cleanliness?

APPA recommends that only trained, specified staff with proper entry credentials may gain access to restricted areas.

When students move out of residence halls, how are you dealing with room maintenance and cleaning, and extra materials/items left behind?

APPA recommends a full cleaning, closing down the building, and vacating.

Are your environmental and maintenance staff being screened before entering the building?  Is anyone taking temperatures?  When would you consider starting these procedures?

While it is an emerging practice, APPA recommends the practice be put into place.  We would immediately suggest this practice for public spaces and hospitals, clinics, etc.

How are universities responding to the need for custodial staff members periodically cleaning and sanitizing facilities to keep campuses safe for remaining staff  (University police, IT, finance, etc.) during the lock-down?

APPA recommends full cleaning, closing down the building, and vacating. We further suggest implementing “Contact Tracing” as well as the REDUCE USE concept with a designated entrance for both entrance and exit purposes.


Medical Issues

Is it possible to determine, after an asymptomatic person self-isolates and considers themselves “recovered,” if they actually had the virus?

Possibly “yes” now, and almost certainly “yes” down the line, as technology advances. At present, a person who has symptomatically recovered from COVID-19 may still have enough viral RNA in their nasopharyngeal secretions to cause a positive (antigen) test.  But the best test for this situation will be an antibody test, which will test for antibodies against the virus, thus confirming recent or past infection (depending upon the presence of short-term or long-term antibodies or both).  The hope is that antibody (blood) tests will be available soon. 

Is it anticipated that COVID-19 will evolve into a non-novel virus within a relatively short period of time?

Eventually, COVID-19 will have infected (symptomatically or asymptomatically) enough individuals—or a combination of infection and vaccination will create a cadre of enough immune individuals—that the pervasive person-to-person spread (lateral transmission) of the virus will stop.  At that point, COVID-19 will no longer be “novel,” as was ultimately the case with H1N1.  But unfortunately, that will not be “in a relatively short period of time.” This is why it is important to continue to follow the expert recommendations regarding prevention from the CDC, our local, tribal, state, and territorial health departments, and infectious disease experts.  We cannot stop these important preventive steps yet, or any time soon.

Since the analytical testing method only determines the presence of the RNA, not virulence, is it possible a person could be negative one time, and positive at a later time?

Yes, there will be individuals that test negative on the current antigen (RNA) test and later will have enough of the viral RNA on board to test positive (whether the virus itself is alive or dead).  However, when the new antibody tests complete development and are available (this process is underway), we will also be able to determine who has had a past infection, and even determine who may now be immune (e.g., if they have a high enough antibody “titer”).   This will be a very important advance, helping us to determine the number of symptomatic v. asymptomatic infections in a community or country.  

What metric will indicate flattening of the curve?  Over what period of time?

“Flattening of the curve” is a general, visual “rounding off,” and then plateauing in the slope of the infection curve (based on the total number of infections in a community or country.)  There really isn’t a specific metric for this. If you look at the cumulative curve for China on the Johns Hopkins COVID-19 site, and then look at the U.S. curve, you will see our “flattening” goal.  You can also see graphs for both cumulative and new cases on the site. 

How does COVID-19 cause death?

It is a respiratory illness, and why there is such a need for respirators. Respirators keep people breathing when the lungs are attacked, and a person can’t breathe on their own. Therefore, respiratory failure occurs, and then shock, and multi-organ failure most often occur.

I just heard today that “red eyes” or conjunctivitis could also be a symptom.  True or False?
This is false.

Is body mass greater than 40 a new risk factor?

Although it was not on the original CDC list, it has now been added.  It is not hard to see why a BMI over 40 would put an individual at greater risk.  Morbidly obese individuals have a higher risk of diabetes, hypertension, and heart disease, which are all independent risk factors for COVID-19.  It is also more difficult to ventilate such an individual, which is key to the survival of critically ill COVID-19 patients.

Regarding the lung infection, is there benefit to having individuals vaccinated for pneumonia such as Prevnar?

Yes, vaccinations versus bacterial pneumonia would certainly be beneficial, as would vaccination against influenza (in the case of influenza, to reduce diagnostic dilemma, if nothing else).  However, the pulmonary complications in the most critically ill COVID-19 patients are not always pneumonia in the classic infectious diseases sense, but instead respiratory failure, shock, and multi-organ failure.

Given the unsubstantiated information circulating on social media, is taking NSAIDS (e.g., Ibuprofen and Advil, etc.) causing complications with respect to COVID-19? 

The information circulating about COVID-19 complications and NSAIDs (Ibuprofen and others) is currently speculative and theoretical.  Certainly, such a link could possibly be substantiated down the line, but the jury is still out, and the FDA and CDC are not willing to state that a causal link exists.  As with everything else about COVID-19, our understanding continues to evolve, sometimes rapidly.  Therefore, if an individual patient has alternative choices for fever-reduction (e.g., acetaminophen in a patient without allergy or liver disease), many experts are suggesting taking a non-NSAID approach while the research continues.

Gowns are not readily available in the supply chain for non-healthcare facilities.  Can one safely clean areas with proper hand hygiene and gloving, but without gowns?

When dealing with a space where a person tested positive for COVID-19, it is best to air out that space for 24 hours before entry, and enter thereafter with the proper PPE (personal protective equipment) if at all possible (i.e., gloves, gown, and possibly masks.) It is critical to follow the CDC guidelines (along with your specific State/Local Health Department instructions) in these cases, and use the most up-to-date information on these special cleaning requirements. The focus for use of PPEs should be situation-specific, so that shortages are avoided due to everyone feeling the need to use them. In cases where these supplies are not available, it has been recommended that a reusable/washable cloth gown be utilized as long as one “dons”, “doffs”, and washes it properly and expeditiously. Videos are available from the Emory and CDC websites for this process; note that they were produced during the Ebola crisis but are relevant to the current pandemic.


General Safety

Can the virus be spread by pets?

No, it cannot.

Have you heard about the counterfeit N-95 masks, and could you offer advice on how to protect against them?

Work with your procurement office to ensure proper specifications are written for masks that are identified and approved for safe use by the CDC and your Local Health Department.

How long does the virus survive on different types of surfaces?

According to ACHA staff and their review of a recent study published (March 20) in the New England Journal of Medicine (with its limitations of being done in a lab), SARS-CoV-2, the virus that causes COVID-19, can live in the air and on surfaces between several hours and several days and the amount (inoculum) of virus is key in infection. The study found that the virus is viable for up to 72 hours on plastics, 48 hours on stainless steel, 24 hours on cardboard, and 4 hours on copper.  It is also detectable in the air for three hours. These numbers reflect why social and physical distancing is an important tool in addressing COVID-19, and why we need to restrict large group gatherings to lower transmission.

With the Spanish Flu of 1918, it was the later mutation that resulted in the greatest impact.  Are we concerned this could also happen with COVID-19?

This remains unknown and speculative.  We will have to wait and see over time.


Maintenance/Building Optimization

How about the HVAC systems feeding the area of an infected person’s room?  What maintenance requirements should we employ beyond standard cleaning, repair, etc.? 

It is recommended that you isolate those HVAC systems as much as possible from other places where non-infected people reside. Close dampers as much as possible to isolate air flow, or consider temporary space heat/cooling to limit the sharing of air.

Given that there’s a huge focus on cleaning touch points, what role do the HVAC units and systems play in the transmission of COVID-19? 

If there is a terminal unit (air handler vent) in the space that can easily be touched like a wall/floor mount unit, disinfecting that on a regular basis along with all other surface cleaning is recommended. This advice would also extend to any thermostat or temperature/fan controls/sensors located in an occupied space.

What is the risk of COVID-19 making its way to air filters in normal central HVAC systems such as office or classroom buildings?

From what we know the Virus can survive on surfaces, so air filters and ductwork (associated with conventional HVAC) are included in these surfaces.  As it may be unrealistic to immediately disinfect all the ductwork of a building, increased filter changes could be a very effective method of control for offices and classroom conventional HVAC. The CDC recommends immediately bagging and securely closing the bag, then disposing of the filter/bag as a regular solid waste. Refer to the CDC Environmental Control Guidelines part C.I.B.7.

Regarding an office or classroom served by a decentralized system such as Variable Refrigerant Flow (VRF,) the primary concern would be the Dedicated Outdoor Air System (DOAS) unit servicing the space. If this unit has an energy recovery device like a wheel, cross contamination of the airstream could exist and a virus or airstream in a VRF system could go from space to space.  Otherwise VRF systems only circulate the air of the room in which they are installed.

Should institutions be looking at reducing air flow so that COVID-19 is not blown around? 

To our knowledge, outside air regulations need to be code-driven, and there is no information at this time on whether or not there is an air velocity that spreads or doesn’t spread the virus. Large HVAC systems are very interdependent, with one feature of the system (moving air) supporting the action of another feature. Reducing airflow could keep HVAC coils wet, which could cause an adverse side effect such as leaks, mold, or increased CO2 levels.

Are there any concerns going forward about testing/disinfecting HVAC air handling systems for COVID-19?

We expect studies to be done on this, but at this time, there are just too many unknowns. However, if you have UV Lights, Bipolar Deionization, or high feature Air Filters, they can only help (based on what we know of these extra HVAC measures and equipment) whether they directly kill the virus or not.

Since buildings are sparsely populated, do you recommend doing walk-throughs by facilities staff to check for issues (such as leaks) that otherwise would have been reported by occupants?

APPA recommends that you utilize this time to perform all such walkthroughs while occupancy is minimal.

Do you have any maintenance and ops personnel wearing N-95 masks? When and where are you requiring PPE (personal protective equipment) such as gloves?

APPA recommends, based on typical practice, that O&M staff do not need to wear PPE, but if there is a request and it will help calm staff, then allow it and try to support.  PPE should primarily be targeted for use by public safety personnel, medical staff, and first responders.

For steam plant operations, are you implementing “shelter-in-place” living at the plant (like they do on ships,) and then rotate in and out for longer term (days, weeks)?

APPA considers this a recommended practice if operating your own plant, and helps to ensure 3-4 separate shifts can be achieved.

How about shutting off services, such as gas, if labs are not being utilized?

From Dave Turnquist, University of Colorado Anschutz Medical Campus: “We are keeping our labs open for critical research only.  Critical research is reviewed and approved by senior research faculty leadership.  While everyone thinks their research is critical, not all is considered as such so we have a number of labs that are shut down. 

“We have a number of house gases – gases that are centralized and distributed through piping network to the labs.  Those remain operational and monitored.  Other gases are brought into the lab in cylinders. If a lab is not operational, the valves are simply shut off.  I am maintaining staff in all the buildings, although in a reduced number and capacity.  I feel confident that with the rounds they continue to make in the research areas, keeping the house gases active at the valve in the lab, we are okay.  I am not sure if turning the gases off at the centralized locations is a good idea or not.  I would be concerned about air getting into the system, possibly creating gaps or bubbles.”

In unoccupied buildings, how will HVAC be managed to ensure excess humidity is controlled with regard to equipment, mold growth, and downstream insurance claims?

APPA recommends using a skeleton crew for walk-throughs even when the buildings are empty. This emphasizes why facilities crews staying on campus is vital, and why vacating all personnel is not the right decision.

Is there an effort being made toward reducing energy use in empty or low occupancy buildings?

Based on shared information, APPA recommends that this must be done aggressively, as we will be dealing with financial issues post this event. Our community does not suggest mothballing, as it is a much more expensive alternative.

Are you dividing up your workforce into different shifts?

From Norm Young, University of Hartford:  “Skilled trades are working only as needed.  Most are home and on-call (still getting paid).  Those who come in on a regular basis are rotated; for example, a plumber comes in three times per week for various duties such as grease trap inspection/cleaning.  An HVAC tech comes in three times per week to check various systems.  Two grounds staff come in three times per week to deal with trash and any other issues that come up.  Our custodial group was planned to be rotated but we changed that in favor of bringing all of them in on regular shifts since we had more activity on campus than we expected. 

“Most of the schools I know of have all of their staff in.  Our reason for not doing that included compliance with ‘stay home’ requests from the state to stop the spread, a desire to stop virtually all spending, and a desire to keep our staff healthy.  I expect more change as we contemplate making more spaces available to our local municipalities and hospitals for patient care should it be needed.”


Employees/Essential/Compensation/HR

I know with HIPPA rules, privacy is key.  However, if someone you work with was exposed or diagnosed with COVID-19, are there special guidelines to ensure staff is notified so that the virus doesn’t spread further?  Does the general public have a right to know who has been diagnosed in order to protect themselves and their family?  What if we are told to work with someone who has possibly been exposed?

First and foremost, it is critical that you formally address specific circumstances at your institution with your HR department staff, facilities leadership, and senior leadership team. Also, the U.S. Health & Human Services (and Canadian counterpart) has published interim guidelines for the relaxation of HIPPA regulations in the face of the COVID-19 pandemic. FERPA guidelines (which relate to most colleges and universities more specifically) provide college health and counseling treatment approaches. Besides the specific policies, procedures, and decisions implemented by your institution, these are the best resources to seek via external websites.

What are some appropriate ways to address racism as it relates to COVID-19?

APPA recommends that issues of this nature be referred to an institution’s general counsel and senior leadership team, as it is beyond a standard HR matter.

Do you have an enhanced compensation package for those employees required to work, while others are getting compensated to remain at home? When you “close” a campus, does that trigger “emergency pay” for certain workers?

APPA reminds its members that campus employees are working in a remote environment, so campuses are not considered closed.

Who makes the decision to reduce staff? The University President? Human Resources? Finance?  How are “essential services” defined?

APPA recognizes that this is the decision of a senior leadership team (NIMS/ Critical Team/Incident Team). However, it is critical for FM to be involved in the decision-making process, or have a direct communication link to the team, to ensure that FM needs are being met.

It seems that the only people that are being taken care of are the supervisors. The manual labor employees are only doing “social distancing.” What are your thoughts on this?

Not the case nationwide, and everyone in FM should be setting the example of appropriate social and physical distancing.

Is anyone being asked to absorb other university employees and/or students into Facilities?

APPA is seeing this practice occurring, and it will be addressed at the APPA Town Hall on March 27th.

Is anyone seeing hiring freezes? I have the Director EHS and Emergency position open!

APPA is seeing this occur on a case-by-case basis.

Have any of you had a central request to staff/faculty/students to self-report if they test positive?

If no policies and procedures are in place, they should be developed. As soon as symptoms appear the individual needs to self-isolate.

How are people handling sick time for quarantine? Is emergency leave being used, or is comp time being exhausted first?

Our communities will address this based on institutional policies, and establish guidelines for better definitions.

How are you handling internal FM maintenance support for construction projects that now have reduced staffing levels?

APPA recommends implementing as much remote functioning as possible with short campus visits while executing physical distancing practices.  For example: 6hrs home and 2hrs on campus.

How are you dealing with staff who is afraid to come to work? Some are high risk, based on age and preexisting medical conditions?

APPA strongly encourages engaging directly, communicating often, ensuring sensitivity and accommodating as much as possible.

Are you mandating custodians to come in?  Is there a liability if you mandate them?

APPA strongly encourages working with staff on a case-by-case basis, with sensitivity to needs and concerns.

Thoughts on how to ‘legally/properly’ identify essential personnel; when an area should go on lock-down; and what to do if employees need to travel to and from work, and are questioned along the way?

APPA recommends such a policy to be in place already before lock-down occurs.

How have Unions and Leadership interacted to find solutions to staffing, etc.?

APPA has had very positive feedback from members who have these relationships thus far.  Everyone is working together and offering help where needed.

How do you handle work refusals under the applicable Occupational Safety & Health Act/regulations?

APPA strongly encourages engaging directly, communicating often, ensuring sensitivity and accommodating as much as possible.  However, standing HR policies would reign. 

Have the abilities of any of your custodial workforce been questioned by customers or fellow custodians?  That is, if one employee has different capabilities than another, have there been any concerns expressed, from the custodial staff and/or the customers, regarding their safety or proper cleaning practices?

APPA reminds the community that this is the responsibility of supervisors/managers to address on a case-by-case basis. Training and communicating with staff constantly about facts and safe practices is imperative. Campus-wide communication should be fluid so customers feel that they are in a credible partnership.

Are you staggering shifts to keep staff from gathering in shops at start and end of shifts?

APPA recommends that this practice be implemented ASAP if it is not already in place.


Classes/Closings/Commencements

Are you planning on no “in person” classes or no major events until fall semester? What about commencement?

At this time, APPA is hearing that our community is moving to no “in-person” classes until the fall. We should remember to follow state required guidelines while planning for this to be the case, and hoping for the best.

Have you seen a total closing, or partial closing, of campus and campus buildings? If so, how are you handling research and faculty reactions? Should they still have total campus access?

APPA recommends closing as much as possible to achieve 5% occupancy.  We are hearing from members that faculty/researchers must request access to their room with paperwork forms, ensuring they are practicing Contact Tracing.

How far is Public Safety going with campus closure?

All the way, directed by senior leadership.


Students

How are campuses planning to deal with returning spring break students? Lots of college students went to Florida and completely ignored social distancing.

APPA is hearing that students are returning on a scheduled basis to collect their belongings for a full move-out. Buildings are then fully cleaned and closed down, allowing for a complete vacancy, or striving for 5% closure. This also ensures adequate separation of space for the remaining students.

What department is identifying how many students are still on campus? And how are they doing this? How are you handling the return of students?

APPA recommends working with the Vice President of Student Services and the leadership team on campus. Implement a request form to allow for tracing/tracking.

For students remaining on campus, are they being moved into a single building, or left in their original rooms?  How do you accommodate them, including food, health, and janitorial services?  Are they required to self-quarantine? What about move out?

APPA is hearing students are being moved out on a scheduled basis. Buildings are then fully cleaned and closed down, allowing for a complete vacancy, or striving for 5% closure. Ensure also adequate separation of space for the remaining students.


Financial Impacts/Insurance/Future Planning

Are you beginning discussions on the potential financial impact of this crisis and reactions to them, including furloughs, layoffs, operating and capital budget reductions? If so, can you share the parameters you are modeling?

APPA has heard that such discussions are underway.  As a community we should be modeling a worst case scenario with regard to staff reductions.

Estimated projections of the length of time for the nationwide shutdown vary anywhere from 2-4 weeks to 6-12 months — a very broad range. That said, what scenario are you currently basing your planning on? Are there new norms?

Unknown, still to be determined. But it is certain that our community is assessing daily how revisions to emergency or incident planning protocols will be impacted.

What are future plans for minimizing touch points?  Hand dryers instead of paper towels?  Sensor faucets and flush valves? 

APPA is seeing this as an emerging practice, and that we are all learning as we move forward.


Space/Building Use

Are U.S. Army COE specs being prepared for space needs and HVAC requirements in an early effort to create emergency spaces using campus and hotel facilities?  Is so, how?

The Army Corps of Engineers website includes information for institutions offering space to create alternate care facilities, medical units, or temporary medical enclosures, as well as links to other related organizations.

Are you receiving good information from your leadership as to what spaces are to be occupied?

APPA recognizes that this is the decision of a senior leadership team. Yet is it crucial that FM either have a seat at the table, or a direct communication link to the team, in order to ensure that FM stake holder’s needs are being met.

We have occupied residence halls (~200 beds being used out of 950 beds). We have some students in each of 12 residence halls. How do we encourage residence administration to consolidate students into just a few buildings?

APPA recommends full cleaning, closing down the building and vacating while transitioning into one central space. We further suggest implementing “Contact Tracing” as well as the REDUCE USE concept with a designated entrance for both entrance and exit purposes. Ensure also adequate separation of space for the remaining students.


Campus Research

Any idea if the CDC has given guidelines related to vivariums, animal care, etc.?

While APPA is seeing little or no guidance from the CDC, here is a listing of a few member institutions with sample guidelines: Texas A&M; Virginia Tech; and Stony Brook University.


Working with Contractors

Are any of you partnering with trusted HVAC contractors as backup for building rounds should your staff become ill?

APPA recommends communicating with all of your contractors and understand their guidelines for working with clients.  Additionally, any institutional guidelines in place need to be adhered to as well.


Please send your questions, comments, and emerging practices to communications@appa.org.