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Custodial crew working above and beyond to protect students

The essential role health providers play in the response to COVID-19 is a central focus around the world today. Also essential to the response are the less visible, but equally important, duties performed by service providers around the globe, in Colorado and at CMU. University custodial staff remain on the global frontline of the pandemic response working around the clock to reduce the spread of the virus. They are also leaders at CMU when it comes to disinfecting, sanitizing and working selflessly to protect students.   

“We disinfect every day, all the time. It’s just a part of our routine and we have just increased that since COVID-19,” said Residence Hall Custodial Supervisor Shari Burkhalter.  

Burkhalter and her team take pride in their work in keeping students safe, but that’s nothing new. Prior to the 2019 Mesa County flu-like viral outbreak that closed area schools, CMU custodial staff had already taken steps to avoid such an outbreak on the CMU campus. This included ordering new equipment like atomizing sanitizers, updating protocols and taking an inventory of campus supplies to learn what areas are most important for preventing the spreading of infectious disease. Their efforts meant that while the virus shut down area schools, CMU's campus remained open.  

"This 2019 training helped prepare our team for what we are facing today with COVID-19," said CMU Director of Facilities David Detwiler.  

"Today our team is focused, proactive, prepared and taking extraordinary steps on campus to protect students." Detwiler also explained that while many don't observe their effort, the CMU nighttime custodial team are among the most important teams in the CMU COVID-19 response. 

“Our night crew may not be seen but their efforts are certainly felt by CMU students and staff.” 

Burkhalter believes members of her team are the "unsung heroes" on campus and have asked for nothing in return for their above and beyond service on the frontlines of the local response.  

"Despite the pictures and the news and the reports of what is happening around the world, our team continues taking steps to sanitize the residence halls and protect the students who live there," said Burkhalter. "No one from my team is asking for special treatment or privileges for their efforts, but I am pleased to see their valiant service being recognized by the community."  

The custodial response team includes additional temporary crews hired to work around the clock disinfecting campus. Time and attention has been invested in training staff to spend extra time and resources disinfecting surfaces and potential viral hot spots including door handles, railings and light switches. The student Residence Halls are being targeted for major disinfecting efforts. Each desk attendant has been given disinfectant, special instructions and disposable rags for the residents to use in their personal spaces.   

“I think custodial has a really underrated job. They do so much work,” said Bunting Hall Resident Assistant Ethan Bollinger. Thanks to the CMU custodiansResident Life staff can continue working with students in a safe environment. 

CMU is also using electrostatic sanitizing mist guns. This technology allows staff to sanitize surfaces more quickly and thoroughly as the electrostatic charge disperses the anti-viral agents in a uniform manner making sure possible contaminated surfaces are made clean. This newer technology is one CMU implemented and tested in 2019 and was used successfully in drills leading up to the COVID-19 outbreak.   

With the electrostatic sanitizing mist guns, Burkhalter says they will continue thoroughly disinfecting every possible service. 

“We’re just being extra diligent in making sure that students, staff and faculty are safe and healthy,” said Burkhalter.  

CMU leaders are in discussion about what additional steps will be taken, and are standing by a state of heightened monitoring. 

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Written by David Ludlam