Demand for cleaning is certainly surging, especially since the scope of the pandemic became clearer into March. “Just today, we fielded over 350 requests about cleaning buildings, and within those, some confirmed coronavirus cases at buildings,” Aftermath Chief Revenue Officer Tina Bao told Bisnow on Thursday. Aurora, Illinois-based Aftermath is a national crime scene cleanup and biohazard remediation company. In the days before the novel coronavirus, few commercial property managers concerned themselves with whether an infectious pathogen was lurking on frequently touched surfaces or anywhere else at their offices. Cleaning commercial or even multifamily common areas used to be routine, and mostly for appearance. The outbreak of the coronavirus in the United States is now forcing fundamental changes in the way people interact with public and private spaces where strangers interact. Schools are closing nationwide, with more than a dozen states shutting them down by Sunday. All bars and restaurants have been closed in some states, the NBA, MLB and NHL all suspended their seasons and many retail operations are going dark temporarily. With the number of confirmed U.S. cases of COVID-19, the disease caused by the coronavirus, increasing exponentially, and cases among people at U.S. commercial properties rising apace, the question of how to clean office space is front and center. “Our customers are concerned, but we aren’t getting panic calls,” said Lyle Gilbertson, the owner of Phoenix-based commercial cleaning service provider SolSource Janitorial. Gilbertson said he is sure that demand for cleaning is going to rise as more cases of office workers testing positive for the coronavirus come to light. Help-wanted ads for cleaners are on track to spike 75% in March, according to online jobs marketplace ZipRecruiter. “We didn’t see much of a change in February, but the first few weeks of March we are seeing a big shift,” ZipRecruiter’s Julia Pollack told MarketWatch. Single-tenant commercial buildings have the option of shutting down, and some have. In early March in Seattle, for example, the 516K SF F5 Tower closed after an employee of F5 Networks, its sole tenant, came into contact with another person diagnosed with COVID-19. After an Amazon employee tested positive for the virus early in the month, the tech giant ordered its workers to go home, emptying its many buildings in its South Lake Union headquarters. Microsoft, Twitter and Facebook soon followed suit. Companies are eager to clean their workplaces and, perhaps as importantly, reassure workers that they are doing their part to combat the coronavirus. But closing a major multi-tenant space is trickier, with some properties opting for cleaning instead of closure — which, as the virus reached pandemic status, health officials have recommended. In Chicago, Sterling Bay told tenants March 11 that a worker at One Two Pru, a major office tower it owns in the Loop, had contracted COVID-19. Later the same day, a worker at 555 West Monroe St., which is fully occupied by PepsiCo, was confirmed to have the virus. “We take this situation extremely seriously,” Sterling Bay said in a statement. “In addition to aggressive nightly cleaning and disinfection measures taken throughout the building in accordance with CDC and WHO protocol — which began long before this incident occurred — last night’s cleaning also included the additional measure of an electrostatic sprayer application of a virus-killing cleaning product on common area touch points.” An electrostatic sprayer adds a charge to a chemical as it is sprayed, making it more likely to adhere to a surface for the amount of time necessary to neutralize pathogens there. A PepsiCo spokeswoman said in an email to Bisnow Friday that a combination of the building’s regular janitorial team and a specialized team cleaned 555 West Monroe overnight. She didn’t offer further details about the process. The interest in cleaning isn’t confined to commercial properties, with residential property managers reporting that they are increasing their efforts to clean common spaces. “This week, our staff has been wiping down doorknobs, handrails, elevator buttons, mailboxes and other surfaces every day with disinfectant,” Sunrise Management & Consulting President Jesse Holland said. Albany, New York-based Sunrise manages about 1,500 apartment units in the region. For now, those steps are the best precautions, he said, but he added he is ready to close common areas, such as pools and fitness rooms. If necessary, he said he is prepared to bring in specialists his company has previously hired, in case a resident comes in contact with the coronavirus.
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