Commercial cleaning services in the Lehigh Valley say they’re ready to meet the decontamination needs of businesses looking to reopen.
As Pennsylvania slowly begins to reopen from the coronavirus pandemic, the state Department of Health has issued building safety measures, which say nonessential businesses and government offices must be decontaminated before reopening, set forth requirements for daily cleaning, and advise businesses be given enough time to get this cleaning done, department spokesman Nate Wardle said.
That’s a big job in the Lehigh Valley. As of November, the region had about 27 million square feet of business office space, with another 629,000 square feet under construction, according to a commercial real estate report from the Lehigh Valley Economic Development Corp.
Commercial cleaners like ServPro, an international cleaning company with an Allentown location that generally handles fire and damage cleanup, have seen an increase in calls for deep cleaning.
“We’re adjusting to this surge in requests for services by bringing in additional resources if needed,” said Chuck Doyle, ServPro’s president and general manager, who oversees the company’s Allentown location and others from his Philadelphia office.
Before the pandemic, Servpro’s staff of seven employees in Allentown received three or four requests and cleaned three locations daily.
“We’ve since seen a moderate decline in residential water damages and an increase in commercial COVID-19 cleaning projects,” Doyle said.
Coronavirus cleaning “is similar to blood-borne pathogen cleanup services we perform from an infectious standpoint, but what’s different with this pandemic is that we’re cleaning large facilities typically in a short period of time," he said. “We follow the cleaning protocols outlined by the [Centers for Disease Control and Prevention], which makes the cleaning process relatively straightforward.”
He said safety standards have increased for his staff, and that personal protective equipment is required for all projects.
The state guidelines apply to buildings 50,000 square feet or larger that are used for commercial, industrial or other purposes, such as warehousing and manufacturing.
Companies need to routinely clean high-touch areas, and ensure facilities have enough employees to clean effectively.
Wardle, the Department of Health spokesman, said the department is coordinating with the state departments of Labor & Industry and Community and Economic Development to ensure there are enough commercial cleaners to service the entire state.
“We are working to ensure the reopening of the state occurs in a seamless and efficient manner," he said.
That’s key not only because the buildings need to be cleaned before they can be reopened, but because smaller cleaning companies have faced many of the same challenges other small companies have during the pandemic. Among those challenges, they’ve had to compete for the supplies they need, both to clean and to keep themselves safe.
Marcos and Christina Rivera, who own Rivera Commercial Cleaning in Allentown, are in constant need of masks and gloves, hand sanitizer and disinfectant cleaners such as Lysol and Clorox.
“It has been very tough to keep our inventory stocked,” Marcos Rivera said. “We go on what we call our daily treasure hunt to find these products. We’ve been lucky so far to find a bottle here or there. We can’t order online because everywhere is either out of stock or available only to health care workers. Still, we have enough to be ready to go. We’re excited to take on new clients."
Ronald and Emily Joseph have owned and operated Samantha Cleaning, named after their now-22-year-old daughter, in Allentown for 15 years. The two of them run the business with no other staff.
“We’re down to maybe only two or three service calls a week now,” Emily Joseph said. “Most of our customer accounts are closed with businesses shut down. We have no money coming in to pay bills. It’s hard right now.”
Coverall, a nationwide franchiser network supporting more than 8,000 commercial cleaners, is prepared for an increased number of requests, according to Chief Operating Officer Shirley Klein. Coverall’s 220 cleaners serve more than 900 customers statewide, some in the Lehigh Valley.
The franchises “are keeping busy with servicing the essential businesses which are currently open and which have a greater cleaning demand,” Klein said. “As businesses slowly ease up on closures and stay-at-home orders, and as there is a new need for keeping employees and businesses healthy, we would expect a high volume of customers."
Stratus Building Solutions, which supports commercial cleaners in the Allentown, Bethlehem and Easton areas from its Philadelphia office, says business is starting to increase as accounts call for deep cleaning before reopening.
“Handling this increase just entails a higher coordination with our accounts since most of our clients are still working remotely,” Stratus Building Solutions co-owners John and Bonnie Coleman said in an emailed statement. “We’ve had to retrain our associates on CDC guidelines, proper personal protective equipment and procedures to ensure everyone’s safety. We’ve needed to be forward-thinking in order to get supplies from our supply chain on a timely basis.”
One local office building operator — partially open because some of its tenants are considered “essential” — says it hasn’t had trouble maintaining cleaning.
“We have a contractor, D’Angelo’s Maintenance Clean of Bethlehem, who has increased their services to us since the pandemic began,” said Katrina Pelekanakis, property manager of Hanover Plaza Associates in Hanover Township, Lehigh County.
“Right now, we have about a quarter of our 23 tenants working at our building,” Pelekanakis said. “Cleaning procedures take about the same time as they did when the building was full, but it’s absolutely necessary, since keeping everyone safe and healthy is our top priority.”
Morning Call reporter Andrew Scott can be reached at 610-820-6508 or firstname.lastname@example.org.