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Sanitising courses for domestic staff

Is it worth it?

By Jennifer Stern

, |

Sanitising courses for domestic staff

Is it worth it?

By Jennifer Stern

, |

We have got used to double-cleaning everything. We wash our hands 15 times a day, and we regularly sanitise every surface in our homes. Is this just a temporary thing, or will it become the norm?

The new normal

We have been bombarded with information about how to keep surfaces sanitised but, let’s face it, we are not usually the person doing most of the cleaning. So it’s good to know there are some great COVID-19-specific sanitising training programmes for domestic staff. If you’re taking the trouble to enrol your domestic helper in a first-aid course, it makes sense to ensure that he or she has all the skills necessary to keep your family safe – and understanding the principle, protocols and processes of sanitising is a vital part of doing just that.

But is this going to continue for ever? Will we never again be able to buy a tin of baked beans without spraying it, and quarantining it in the garage, before we pack it away in the kitchen cupboards? And, will the investment in sanitising training be – ultimately – wasted?

Sanitising vs cleaning

Most of us keep our houses pretty darn clean – and we did so even before COVID-19 introduced the concept of sanitising. We washed dishes, did laundry, dusted, swept, vacuumed and wiped down surfaces regularly. We used hot water and specifically designed cleaning products, and we regularly cleaned our cleaning equipment like vacuum bags, brooms, dishcloths, etc. Our houses have been nigh on spotless since for ever.

But they are not sterile – and they never will be. Never! So – just in case you were tempted – it’s not a good idea to perform surgery on the kitchen table, no matter how clean it is.

But, if our homes aren’t sterile, what’s the point of sanitising?

It’s all a numbers game

Sanitising is a numbers game – much like wearing a seatbelt, taking multivitamins, not smoking and going to the gym. These things are all very likely to help you live to a healthy old age, but they are no guarantee. And keeping your house relatively free of pathogens is much the same. So these skills that you – and your domestic staff – are learning are certainly useful in times of pandemic, but their utility will not expire in a few years when we’ve all forgotten about COVID-19.

Seriously, what will life be like after COVID-19?

The most important thing to remember is that – for many people in the world – COVID-19 was not a sudden, surprising, event. Epidemiologists have been saying for decades: ‘The question is not whether we will have another big pandemic, it’s when.’ The last really, really, big one was in 2018 and 2019.

Take, for example, SARS and MERS. I recall, quite distinctly, in 2003, taking a small bottle of hand sanitiser to the Indaba travel expo because there were delegates there from all over the world. People looked at me a bit oddly, and it may have been a bit of overkill, but I still think it was a good idea. That one – SARS-CoV the original – did not become a pandemic, but it so nearly could have.

And, here’s the important thing to remember. When (if) this is all over – when SARS-CoV-2 has run its course, we’ve achieved herd immunity, or found a vaccine – what then? Does that mean we’re safe for 100 years?

No, it does not! If we continue factory farming, bush clearing, bush meat ‘harvesting’ and wet markets, we could have another pandemic just like this one next year, or the year after. Of course, the chances are we will dodge the bullet more successfully than we did this one because we will be prepared.

The ‘successful containment’ of SARS in 2003 and MERS in 2012 led to a false sense of security with people saying things about COVID-19 like:

  • They always make such a fuss and it ends up being nothing.
  • It will never get here.
  • It won’t affect me.
  • It’s just the flu – I’ve had man-flu before, I can cope.

So the one big advantage of COVID-19 is that, when (not if) we are faced with the emergence of another novel virus, we’ll be prepared. We can dig in that drawer where we keep the jeans we can’t get into any more and find a few old masks, and we may even have some hand sanitiser lying around. And public health services all around the world will have appropriate protocols. (Yes, that last sentence shows that I am an incurable optimist.)

And, even if we do go for a few decades without another pandemic scare, your kids are going to regularly come home from school with all manner of colds and flu, so it’s probably a good thing that you – and your domestic staff – know how to minimise the risk of infection for the rest of the family.

Bottom line

What this means is that any skills, habits and PPE you and/or your domestic staff acquire now to deal with COVID-19 will not become obsolete. They will (sadly) have utility for many, many years.

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