The Information Athletic Directors Cannot Afford to Ignore
The Disinfecting Problem, Liability, and Possible Solution
By: Kelsey Irwin
The coronavirus pandemic has brought along an unprecedented set of challenges that may permanently alter life in college athletics. While athletic departments want to return to their version of ‘normal’ as soon as possible, they must place an enormous priority on cleaning practices. Much of the regulation regarding social distancing guidelines and availability of testing boil down to state and local governments. Disinfecting large facilities and airspace has been an age-old challenge. Regardless, athletic departments can control the way they clean their facilities and prepare for the welcoming of athletes and staff back to campus. While well-intended, disinfecting products and methods present the opportunity of safety and risk. Without addressing this one problem, in particular, athletic departments will be unable to keep their athletes, employees, and fans safe. With the now more likely return of athletes, employees, and fans to campus, the question remains, how to accomplish all of this safely?
Medical experts do not know when a vaccine will become available, however, few expect one in 2020. Without a vaccine, large-scale testing and disinfecting methods become paramount. As a result, personal, commercial, and institutional cleaning practices emerge at the forefront of prevention measures. CDC’s recommendations include cleaning surfaces with soap prior to disinfecting and frequently disinfecting ‘high-touch’ surfaces. In a time where household cleaning products are practically modern-day gold and the majority of the population does not leave their home without a mask, how can athletic facilities possibly be cleaned in a safe and effective way?
The majority of disinfectants include chemicals such as isopropyl alcohol, bleach, chlorine, ammonia, hydrogen peroxide, and hypochlorus acid. All of these chemicals can be harmful to humans via inhalation or contact with skin. A 8-year Harvard study concluded that the use of bleach once per week increased the risk of various lung diseases such as COPD and asthma by 32%. How much harm are we putting athletes in if athletic programs plan to disinfect after every workout?
Athletic environments are a natural incubator for the spread of any illness. That’s why viral infections wipe out entire rosters in years past. Athletes share locker-rooms, meeting rooms, training rooms, weight rooms, water bottles, and much more. The number of people involved in some sports serves to amplify the potential risk of infection. Typical college football programs, for example, involve over 120 players and 70-plus staff members.
Given those numbers, it would be difficult to know for certain that the threat of exposure to coronavirus has been eliminated. Would implementing hand-washing stations and social distancing guidelines be enough? Probably not. If the virus does subside in time for the fall semester, medical experts have warned of a second wave arriving in late-Fall. To make matters worse, a potential second-wave of coronavirus would coincide with the traditional flu season. Those same questions regarding sanitary practices, budget issues, and more would then shift to Winter and Spring sports.
Tackling this problem requires a multifaceted approach. Unfortunately, cleaning surfaces alone does not and will not eliminate all the risks of contracting the virus as this global pandemic is airborne.
Did you know that in order for disinfectants to be used properly, they cannot be wiped off immediately? Yes, that means every time you sprayed a product onto your kitchen counter to wipe it off seconds later was a waste. The bacteria and pathogens you intended to kill did not go anywhere. In order for disinfectants to be used effectively, they must be sprayed on and left for a minimum of six minutes prior to being wiped off. In fact, some cleaners require at least fifteen minutes prior to being wiped. Depending on the type of surface as well as the humidity, some products will require more or less time prior to being wiped off in order to work. Are your employees waiting for the necessary time before wiping the products off? Do you know 100% that these protocols are being followed? To make things more complicated, some disinfectant products that do not get wiped off leave a harmful residue that can cause chemical burns on human skin. Yes, that means deciding to spray the product and leaving it will fulfill the intended use, but it will put anyone who touches it as the risk of a dangerous chemical burn. Can you ensure that your employees are wiping off every surface that a disinfectant is sprayed – after the necessary time?
While some athletic departments may decide to hire third-party janitorial services, issues still arise. The cost alone of these services is very expensive. However, to some, spending more money to guarantee cleanliness is worth the cost. But, regardless of who is responsible for cleaning, the products used will still take extensive time. Can parts of athletic facilities be closed down for a couple of hours between practices, meetings, and lifts to ensure cleanliness for the next team to use? From a logistical standpoint, it may be difficult to add multiple hour-long cleaning blocks into an already crowded schedule. Often times, athletic teams are using spaces right after one another.
How can athletic facilities mitigate risks of an airborne pathogen? The common chemicals – isopropyl alcohol, bleach, chlorine, ammonia, hydrogen peroxide, and hypochlorus acid – cannot be safely diffused into the air due to the risk of inhalation exposure.
One product, ATS's TwinOxide, attempts to check these boxes by killing pathogens and bacteria both in the air and on hard surfaces. The product can be fogged or used into a diffuser on a regular basis. TwinOxide doesn’t leave a residue so it doesn’t need to be wiped off. Avoiding the labor necessary to wipe down surfaces after application can reduce an hour-long cleaning process down to minutes. In addition, the product is non-toxic, safe to handle, and has been EPA approved for direct contact on food and fresh items. TwinOxide is registered with the EPA as a disinfectant, sanitizer, and sterilizer. This spray-on disinfectant can even be facility-circulated to sterilize all surfaces, including the air.
A return to any sense of normal will be aided by the return of sports. The appeal of sports is undeniable particularly when athletes, staff, and fans can have confidence that the host facility is taking all measures to safely disinfect. New products, such as TwinOxide, used in conjunction with traditional disinfectants and the implementation of hand-washing stations can help to make this a reality.