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Cleaning Services More Essential Than Ever, But Cleaners More At Risk

The cooks of Midway Restaurant & Pizza do a complete wash-down of the restaurant, on March 20, 2020, in Ashford, Connecticut.
Joe Amon
Connecticut Public Radio
The cooks of Midway Restaurant & Pizza do a complete wash-down of the restaurant, on March 20, 2020, in Ashford, Connecticut.

While some businesses have asked their staff to work from home, other jobs can’t be done remotely. Among the most important as the nation faces a pandemic infection -- cleaning.

But many people who clean for a living say they don’t feel safe carrying out their jobs right now.

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Grace Reynolds, a co-founder of the American House Cleaners Association, says she’s seeing all sorts of reactions in her field.

“It’s really all over the place,” Reynolds said. “There’s a lot of people that are losing clients. There’s a lot of people that are choosing to step away from the work, they’re afraid to go into people’s homes, they don’t want to catch the virus. And then there’s a lot of people that want to power through it and help families survive this pandemic.”

Sarah Ellis runs Fancy Jane’s in Windsor. She said in 20 years of cleaning commercial and residential buildings, she has never faced such impossible choices.

“When did I ever think I was going to feel like cleaning was a moral dilemma?” she asked. “I have elderly clients, I have people who have compromised immune systems, I have people who are home alone with five children.”

In the end, Ellis made the call within the last few days to shut down most of her business.

“I decided to close the residential business to anyone who will be on-site, until my many nurse friends tell me I can resume,” she explained. “It seemed like the responsible thing to do. I’m considering posting that I am available for off-hours sanitation for businesses so I can keep myself and friends who have been hit by the shutdown. I’ve also been doing a lot more research into various hazmat certifications and revamping my business plan over the next few weeks.”

Cleaners like Ellis say they’re looking for more definite guidance from the federal government over safety on the job. But meanwhile, as for many workers, times will be lean.

“I’m lucky,” Ellis said. “I’m a saver and a planner. I won’t starve or lose my home. I just hate feeling useless.”

Copyright 2020 Connecticut Public Radio

Harriet Jones is Managing Editor for Connecticut Public Radio, overseeing the coverage of daily stories from our busy newsroom.
Chion Wolf is the host of Audacious and Us in the Time of Coronavirus on Connecticut Public Broadcasting.
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