As leaders at The University of Texas Health Science Center at Houston (UTHealth) outline plans for gradually inviting remote workers and learners back to its campuses, at the top of every list is an assurance that facilities are clean and safe.
Throughout the COVID-19 pandemic, the Department of Facilities, Planning, and Engineering has focused on maintaining UTHealth-owned buildings and doubling down on cleaning and disinfection protocols.
“As the situation began to develop, we soon realized this pandemic would change our normal cleaning operations,” said William "Wes" Stewart, vice president of Facilities, Planning, and Engineering. “This included working together with other departments to meet the needs of our institution.”
Those returning to campus can rest assured common areas, restrooms, and high-touch surfaces such as elevator buttons and door knobs are being frequently disinfected, thanks to Facilities, Auxiliary Enterprises, and the Department of Safety, Health, Environment and Risk Management (SHERM).
“We doubled our housekeeping staff, and they have been focusing on additional cleaning in common areas, restrooms, and high-touch surfaces,” said Mark Ferguson, director of maintenance, operations, and contract services. “The increased cleaning will continue as directed by senior leadership to prevent the spread of COVID-19 in these high-contact areas.”
Ferguson said there is a heavy focus on cleaning restrooms, as well as elevator lobbies, elevator cabins, and call buttons. Crews are also focusing on door handles, railings, and other commonly touched surfaces. The disinfectants used have been reviewed by the Environmental Health and Safety (EHS) team for effectiveness in destroying bacteria and viruses.
“In the past we’ve partnered with Facilities to prepare for major storms and ensure workplace safety on construction and renovation projects,” said Scott Patlovich, assistant vice president of EHS. “Now our teams are working together to ensure EPA-registered disinfectant products are being used safely and effectively throughout our buildings. These additional efforts, in tandem with the basic public health measures that everyone should take while on campus, are intended to help keep people healthy and safe,” Patlovich said.
The Facilities team has also installed hand-sanitizing stations in common areas and at the entrances of UTHealth buildings.
Cleaning procedures have also been taking place at the UT Professional Building, Jesse H. Jones Library Building, the Recreation Center, Child Development Center, UTHealth-owned parking garages and lots, mail services, food services, and university housing.
“Keeping our students, faculty, and staff safe is always our No. 1 priority, and we are taking every precaution to protect them,” said Charles Figari, vice president and chief auxiliary enterprises officer of UTHealth. “We serve a variety of customers, especially patients, and they must be afforded that same protection. Our staff, in conjunction with UT Physicians and EHS, have risen to that challenge.”
He added that the daily and hourly disinfection of high traffic areas is working in tandem with additional patient screening efforts to ensure safe and clean facilities that meet or exceed safety guidelines.
“With much of our population attending classes online or working remotely, it’s an unforeseen opportunity to complete construction work and not impact research or learning,” said Julie Lucas, director of project management. “Our work hasn’t stopped, and we’ve been able to accelerate the schedule of some preventive maintenance projects that are typically done during summer months in preparation of everyone returning to campus.”
Lucas said contractors are required to adhere to university standards for safety, including new COVID-19 measures. The Facilities team is ensuring contractors are wearing masks, practicing proper handwashing procedures, and social distancing.