Surface testing shines light on virus hot spots
Cherokee Nation environmental health specialist Lauren Fishinghawk on June 12 tests for traces of COVID-19 on a remote control at the Food Distribution site in Tahlequah. CHAD HUNTER/CHEROKEE PHOENIX
TAHLEQUAH – Sweeping tests for COVID-19 at Cherokee Nation buildings and workspaces have highlighted where cleaning efforts can be improved, said CN Chief of Staff Todd Enlow.
“One of the things that we learned through all of this is when we were spraying our sanitation supplies and cleaning, our housekeeping and facility services staff were avoiding places where food was stored,” Enlow said. “So when they got close to a refrigerator or a microwave or where food might have been out in a break area, they were avoiding those spaces. That’s where we were catching the virus.”
While transmission rates from surfaces to individuals are a “pretty low probability,” Enlow said, “We don’t want to run the risk of exposing somebody.”
“That’s why we’re doing this testing, just to make sure that we’re providing as safe a place as possible for employees as well as citizens,” he added.
This summer, the CN began comprehensive testing of workspace surfaces at all 150 of its governmental locations in an effort to gauge how its COVID-19 sanitation strategy was faring.
“We’re still doing that testing and have continued on since June,” Enlow said. “We’ve got high-traffic areas in certain locations that we check periodically like front doors of the complex, door handles, things like that. Roughly 3% of all the tests we’ve taken so far have yielded a positive result.”
When an employee is known to have the virus, that particular workspace is tested, sanitized and then retested for COVID.
“Basically, we’re finding out if you were emitting the virus at that particular time … then we sanitize it and we make sure if there was virus present, we’ve now removed it,” Enlow said. “Our whole goal is to get the virus out. There have only been one or two instances where our sanitation efforts didn’t work the first time and we had to go back and clean it again.”
The CN’s method of testing helped pinpoint an employee with COVID-19, Enlow said.
“This testing has actually helped us to identify somebody that was an asymptomatic positive employee that was continuing to work because they didn’t have any known exposure and they really didn’t have any reason to go get tested,” he said.
Of three employees tested in that situation, one had COVID-19.
“We went back in and cleaned that space up and put that employee on quarantine,” Enlow said. “It potentially helped keep that from spreading through his family and others that he was coming into contact with. So it’s actually proven to be pretty effective.”
According to WebMD, the coronavirus that causes COVID-19 can live for hours to days on surfaces such as countertops and doorknobs.
“Keep in mind that researchers still have a lot to learn about the new coronavirus,” the health website states. “But you’re probably more likely to catch it from being around someone who has it than from touching a contaminated surface.”
The CN’s samples were tested at Elite Element Laboratories in Sallisaw. Associated testing costs will be reimbursed by federal CARES Act funds, Enlow said.