Each year, National Custodian Appreciation Day is a day set aside to thank the custodians who keep the College of Charleston a clean and orderly environment for learning.
But, as we have discovered, 2020 is not an ordinary year. And National Custodian Appreciation Day on Oct. 2, 2020, has a deeper meaning amid the backdrop of the COVID-19 pandemic.
“This year, more than any other time in recent history, the custodial field is even more critical,” says John Morris, vice president for Facilities Management. “Custodians play an essential role in providing a clean environment during this pandemic.”
These employees are on the frontlines, working to help contain the spread of the coronavirus. On average, CofC’s custodians each clean over 30,000 gross square feet of classroom space, offices and common areas per day. That is equivalent to cleaning about 15 average sized houses every single day. But the spaces they clean are not the same as someone’s home, where only a small family and possibly a pet or two live. These spaces at the College often have several thousand people using them daily.
Custodian William McCoy, a custodial worker who can be found most days doing anything from cleaning academic buildings to handling trash detail around campus, says the prospect of working during a pandemic was initially a little unnerving, but he and his co-workers have pushed through and made adjustments to their routines – such as wearing face coverings and practicing social distancing – to keep the College shipshape.
“In the early days, when the pandemic first came out, I think there was a lot of concern and a lot of anxiety about whether we felt safe coming to work,” says McCoy. “Now we feel safer because we understand a little bit more about the coronavirus, we’ve been educated in the important things to know and learned about how it effects people. And I think the College has put things in place that will help us as co-workers and students at the College of Charleston.”
In order to keep the campus clean and safe during the pandemic, Facilities Management has been holding training sessions for custodians on topics ranging from enhanced cleaning of buildings to safely working with the EPA-recommended chemicals that are needed to kill the coronavirus. Morris says that, while students, professors and most staff members left CofC to work at home during the height of the pandemic, much of the custodial staff continued coming to campus and focused on deep cleaning the entire College.
With the fall semester well underway, that deep cleaning continues on a daily basis – a task Virginia Melton, Lisa Jones and Barbara Simmons tackle as custodians for CofC’s residence halls. Each of the women say their work has taken on a new significance as they’ve had to increase their cleaning protocols and practices, particularly with high-touch surfaces like doors and elevators.
“We are doing extra, safety wise,” says Jones, who works in Liberty Street Residence Hall as well as George Street Apartments. “We do more sanitizing and look at the details more. Overall, we want to be safe and we want to keep other people safe.”
Melton, who works in Liberty, adds, “I’m glad I can help, as long as I can keep myself safe.”
At College Lodge, Simmons, who has been a custodian at the College for more than 20 years, can be found doing everything from sweeping and cleaning windows to sanitizing the laundry facilities and wiping down door handles and railings throughout the building multiple times a day.
“To keep down the virus, this is what we do,” says Simmons. “The railings might have been done twice a week – now I do them every day because I know they’ve got to come in and out, and I want to make sure [the students] are safe. That is my responsibility – that’s my job.”
Cleaning classrooms, public restrooms, campus facilities and residence halls day in and day out is a herculean task in an average year. When you add a pandemic into the mix, the work becomes even more crucial to the health and well-being of the College and its people.
It’s a tough job on a good day, and one that right now comes with new concerns and anxieties. Morris says the College’s custodians have their own fears and apprehensions about the coronavirus, but that they remain dedicated and continue to do the cleaning that needs to be done to keep that campus safe.
“I think that we need to make sure we recognize our custodians, not only on National Custodian Appreciation Day, but on a day-to-day basis as well,” says Morris.