Jeff Waddell meticulously suits up in protective gear and focuses his mind before entering Pitt’s student isolation housing to clean and disinfect. “We are the front lines of defense,” he said of Pitt’s cleaning staff. “We know the virus is out there, but we also know what we’ve done.” (Aimee Obidzinski/University of Pittsburgh)
Waddell carefully adjusts his gear. He works alone when cleaning student isolation housing to focus on the task. “You really want to concentrate on what you’re doing,” he said. He follows a strict routine. (Aimee Obidzinski/University of Pittsburgh)
Waddell’s routine includes physical and mental preparation. “I sit down and get my mind right before going upstairs to clean,” he said from the basement space where he changes into his protective gear. “The virus can affect your health, but more than being able to kill you, it can affect your mind, too.” (Aimee Obidzinski/University of Pittsburgh)
Waddell’s gear includes shoe covers, a mask, a face shield and gloves. (Aimee Obidzinski/University of Pittsburgh)
After donning protective gear and collecting supplies, Waddell heads upstairs to clean student isolation housing. (Aimee Obidzinski/University of Pittsburgh)
Student isolation housing units are stocked with cleaning supplies so residents can tidy up as they please. After a unit is vacated, it’s left empty for several days before University cleaning staff clean and disinfect. (Aimee Obidzinski/University of Pittsburgh)
Waddell demonstrates how beds in isolation housing are cleaned and disinfected. The mattress is left standing to indicate it’s been cleaned. (Aimee Obidzinski/University of Pittsburgh)
Waddell turns on the bathroom fan before entering to clean and disinfect fixtures and touchpoints in student isolation housing. (Aimee Obidzinski/University of Pittsburgh)
After a student isolation housing unit is prepared for a new resident, the door is sealed with a bright orange sticker. (Aimee Obidzinski/University of Pittsburgh)
Waddell departs after cleaning a suite in Pitt’s student isolation housing. (Aimee Obidzinski/University of Pittsburgh)
Clean, then sanitize, is the protocol repeated hundreds of times each day. Mei Yu-Kephalogianis wipes surfaces in the lobby and stairwells of Nordenberg Hall multiple times each day and uses an electrostatic sprayer to disinfect doorknobs, railings and lounge furniture. (Aimee Obidzinski/University of Pittsburgh)
Evelyn Critten prepares to clean a bathroom in Nordenberg Hall using a no-touch disinfection process. (Aimee Obidzinski/University of Pittsburgh)
Alan Nance works overnight in Salk Hall, where his job includes cleaning the School of Dental Medicine’s dental clinic. (Tom Altany/University of Pittsburgh)
Bill Brinza normally sets up for events during his overnight shift in the William Pitt Union, but now he’s cleaning event spaces that were transformed into classrooms. (Tom Altany/University of Pittsburgh)
Vatus Davenport cleans the kindergarten classrooms, library and wood shop each night at the K-8 Fanny Edel Falk Laboratory School, affiliated with Pitt’s School of Education. (Tom Altany/University of Pittsburgh)
Maurice Douglas uses a backpack sprayer to disinfect blocks in a kindergarten classroom at the Falk School. (Tom Altany/University of Pittsburgh)
Phi Sigma Rho sorority members created notes of appreciation for the maintenance staff.
Meet the Cleaning Staff on the Job, Day and Night
Pitt has world-class medical experts to guide its pandemic response and a campus community that’s committed to caring for one another by following their advice.
Campus spaces have been equipped with sanitizer stations and disinfectant wipes; ventilation has been adjusted to maximize fresh air; classroom capacities have been reduced; and reminders have been posted to keep best practices top-of-mind.
But the University’s pandemic response has another line of defense: the Pitt cleaning staff.
Day and night, custodians and housekeepers have been spraying, wiping and deep-cleaning spaces where members of the Pitt community live, work, play and learn.
And they’ll continue over the winter break, giving Pitt buildings an additional deep cleaning.
Combined with healthy practices encouraged across the University—wearing masks, washing hands and maintaining physical distance—their relentless efforts and careful concern for enhanced cleaning protocols have played a crucial role in the fight against COVID-19.
“Our cleaning staff have one of the most important and unsung roles in keeping the University of Pittsburgh community safe,” said Chancellor Patrick Gallagher. “Since the pandemic began, they have risen to this daunting challenge every hour of every day and earned our heartfelt respect and gratitude along the way.”
The University’s cleaning staff work together to protect students, faculty, staff—and one another, said housekeeping manager Michelle Smith. “We are really trying to keep everybody healthy,” she said.
Clad in appropriate protective gear, they’ve stepped up, using enhanced cleaning protocols, approved cleaning products and specialized sanitizing equipment.
Here’s a glimpse into their world.
By day, Pitt’s housekeepers clean and sanitize student housing. High-touch areas including elevator buttons and light switches receive a detailed cleaning each shift and additional cleanings throughout the day.
Housekeepers become a familiar face to students, and often play a role that goes beyond official duties.
Mei Yu-Kephalogianis, a mother of two daughters at Pitt, treats residents of Nordenberg Hall like her own.
She recognizes the stress of leaving home and transitioning to adulthood.
“You’ll be okay,” she’s assured countless first-year students over her 10 years at Pitt, whether they’re suffering from homesickness or a cold.
“We have to set the example to the young students,” she said. She models proper behavior, wearing a mask and maintaining physical distance. Her approach: “Wash your hands, keep clean, have faith and don’t be afraid.”
At night, the process continues.
Alan Nance works overnight in Salk Hall, where his job includes cleaning the School of Dental Medicine’s dental clinic. He works alone, dusting, emptying trash and wiping each chair, sink and counter.
“COVID is serious. This is not a joke,” he said.
Bill Brinza normally handles setups for events during his overnight shift in the William Pitt Union. The Ballroom, Assembly Room, dining rooms and even Nordy’s Place were pressed into service this fall to serve as physically distanced classrooms.
At the Fanny Edel Falk Laboratory School, desks have been spread out to accommodate distancing, said Vatus Davenport, who cleans the kindergarten classrooms, library and wood shop each night at the school affiliated with Pitt’s School of Education.
Disinfecting wipes are at the door and signs posted to remind students to wash their hands.
“It’s a joint effort,” she said, noting that teachers are cleaning during the day.
Cleaning at night involves vacuuming, sweeping, emptying trash, and wiping desks, chairs and high-touch areas with disinfectant.
Spray disinfecting is the final step.
Maurice Douglas uses a backpack sprayer to disinfect blocks in a kindergarten classroom. All surfaces and spaces—from restrooms to lockers to toys —are sprayed at the end of the shift.
The work of Pitt’s dedicated custodians and housekeepers hasn’t gone unnoticed. Students frequently say thank you, said Yu-Kephalogianis.
And Phi Sigma Rho sorority members created notes of appreciation for the maintenance staff.
Supervisors posted the cards near time clocks across campus for staff to see.
“It makes us happy. We are all trying to do our best,” she said.