AUBURN, N.H. — Elvis Presley often wore a chain and gold pendant with the initials TCB around his neck because he always said he was “Taking Care of Business.”

In times like these, we must all play our roles and take care of business. That means supporting our team, neighbors, families, customers and collective communities.

If we stay focused on doing that, our industry will survive COVID-19, although it will look different from what it did in the past. Despite an increasing number of people receiving vaccinations that give others hope that the pandemic will finally end, the “good old days” won’t be back for a while.

The effects of COVID-19 will be seen throughout 2021 and even further into the future. The laundry business, including service, sales and on-premises laundries (OPL) and Laundromats, must continue to adapt, just as it did for much of 2020.

A LOOK AT SERVICE

The coronavirus lockdowns and mask orders first started last March. The service business quickly adapted to keep on-premises laundries operating, particularly in care facilities, which include nursing homes, assisted living facilities and hospitals, where the pandemic increased the laundry poundage.

That means service technicians increasingly are required to get a rapid antigen test before entering such facilities, and they always wear masks and social distance.

For service employees’ safety, most companies require the facility to be disinfected and sanitized before workers arrive, and laundry attendants must leave the area for laundry equipment servicing.

CHANGES TO SALES

For sales, COVID-19 has meant being creative to keep safe. Wearing masks and social distancing became the new normal, with some facilities, especially those in healthcare, preferring to meet and hear your sales presentation in the parking lot vs. their facility. All while masking and social distancing, of course.

Virtual meetings and FaceTime-type apps likely will continue to be the preferred means of connecting with customers for the foreseeable future, as safety remains everybody’s main focus.

ON-PREMISES LAUNDRIES AND LAUNDROMATS

On-premises laundries, whether in a hotel, nursing home or other facilities (and Laundromats) have also had to adapt so their customers and staff feel safe. Wearing masks inside has become mandatory, as well as social distancing. In fact, many facilities limit the number of people allowed inside with the number determined by the building’s square footage.

Not surprisingly, laundry equipment is regularly sanitized, and some facilities are looking at, or have already installed, systems to sanitize operations further.

OPLs have made sure their attendants do not shake dirty laundry. They also ensure that items are washed using the warmest appropriate water setting for the fabrics and dried thoroughly, and they disinfect hampers or other carts for transporting laundry.

While some of these changes may eventually go away, it likely won’t happen soon, and things won’t be back to 100% the way it was pre-pandemic. People will probably stay hesitant to go into enclosed spaces. And in a year, some people will continue to wear masks, particularly in crowded areas, even after most people have been vaccinated.

Just how soon things return to some degree of normality will be determined by the vaccine’s success and how quickly people—medical staff, essential workers, teachers, the elderly and the general public—can get the shots or be persuaded to be immunized.

As of Dec. 30, nearly 12.4 million doses have been distributed, and 2.8 million doses had been administered, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC).

Decisions will have to be made based upon the available facts as more is learned about the vaccine’s effectiveness in real-world conditions.

The top concerns in care facilities, hotels, spas and other businesses will be validating that the laundry is disinfected and that the facilities and surfaces are properly disinfected and sanitized and how often. Educating staff about safe and effective disinfectant use will be paramount.

For example, just spraying and wiping down a surface with any disinfectant doesn’t mean you’ve killed the COVID virus. Is the business using an EPA-approved disinfectant known to kill SARS-CoV-2, the specific coronavirus that causes COVID-19? (The EPA publishes a List N for disinfectants for the coronavirus at https://www.epa.gov/pesticide-registration/list-n-disinfectants-coronavirus-covid-19.)

Many of the approved cleaners need to dry on the surface for several minutes to be effective. Other cleaners require that you wash the surface first with soap and water before spraying the disinfectant.

Being safe will go beyond using the proper disinfectant. Are hotels using fogging to disinfect rooms, even though they’ve proven to be mostly ineffective? Or are they using ultraviolet-C (UVC) lights to disinfect spaces?

As the U.S. Food and Drug Administration (FDA) notes: “It is important to recognize that, generally, UVC cannot inactivate a virus or bacterium if it is not directly exposed to UVC. In other words, the virus or bacterium will not be inactivated if it is covered by dust or soil, embedded in a porous surface or on the underside of a surface.”

The CDC warns that improper application of disinfectants or other materials can lead to a false sense of security, an increase in health hazards and not effectively reduce the risk of the spread of COVID-19. This is why we have had more than 20 million cases of COVID and 350,000 deaths in the United States since Jan. 21, 2020.

Supervision, education and training will be critical to the sector’s future success. Many new products promise to kill the virus, but you need to do your research to confirm they work well. In OPLs and Laundromats, workers and customers will be concerned about disinfection and sanitization.

You will need to validate that you’re doing everything you can to keep customers and staff safe. The need for more sanitation and disinfection is the reason for an upswing in ozone in laundries, which helps lower utility bills, reduces facilities’ carbon footprint and sanitizes everything in the machines.

FINAL THOUGHTS

Again, it’s not enough to have solid processes in place. The challenge will be communicating it to residents, patients and guests. All interested parties want peace of mind the building they enter, live in or visit as guests have been thoroughly cleaned from flat surfaces to, of course, the linens they touch.

Perhaps no time in history has what happens in our on-premises laundries been more important to customers, residents and guests. It’s important for laundry managers and general managers to showcase their efforts.

Like in the wilderness, it will be survival of the fittest. The “fittest” OPLs and Laundromats will survive by being proactive and sanitizing and disinfecting their facilities, thus creating a safe environment for their employees and customers.