Campus News

We’re still here: Keeping Carolina clean

Each weeknight at 11 p.m., the Facilities Services housekeepers of Zone 215 report to the Adams School of Dentistry to clean it so dentists and hygienists can treat patients at clinics during the day. They’re one of many employee teams working on campus since the pandemic began.

One of the messiest areas to clean is the dental mold lab, above, being wiped down by housekeeper Saw Htoo. (Jon Gardiner/UNC-Chapel Hill)

When the University went to remote instruction in March 2020 because of COVID-19, many employees began working from home. But not all jobs can be done at home or over Zoom. In “We’re Still Here,” The Well catches up with employees who have been working on campus all along. Follow the series, including the first two installments, Keeping Carolina healthy and Keeping Carolina safe.

We’re still here

map of UNC-Chapel Hill showing the School of Dentistry.

Housekeeping Zone 215
Adams School of Dentistry
18 housekeepers on 3rd shift crew (11 p.m.-7 a.m.)
Area of coverage: Brauer Hall (216,130 square feet gross area); Koury Oral Health Sciences Building (108,790 square feet); Tarrson Hall (99,301 square feet); and First Dental (70,998 square feet)

 

The Facilities Services housekeepers of Zone 215, third shift, clean the Adams School of Dentistry overnight so that dentists and hygienists can treat patients at clinics during the day, faculty and students can conduct their research and lab students and technicians can cast dental molds.

Crew leader Phyllis Seymore, pictured above, was part of the skeleton crew that continued to come to clean in March when many University employees began to work remotely because of the pandemic. “There were two crew leaders, three housekeepers and one zone manager,” Seymore said. “When everybody went home and we had to come in, it was kind of scary. Because it was the beginning of the pandemic, we weren’t wearing masks [Note: The CDC did not recommend that everyone wear masks at that early stage of the pandemic.] But we would come in, and we separated, and we each took a building and went to our area, and that’s where we were till it was time to go home. I was using so much disinfectant … . We were using a lot because we were scared.”

At the beginning of their shift, housekeepers report to the supply room in the basement of Tarrson Hall to pick up a packet of supplies, pictured above, for the day, depending on their assignments. What’s been different about the supplies during the pandemic is that all the specialized cleaners — like solutions for glass or stainless steel — have been replaced by PortionPac 264N and 201N, two germicidal cleaners that are used to sanitize toilets, mop floors and disinfect all high-touch surfaces. Each week, housekeepers also receive a packet of five masks, one for each workday.

One of the messiest areas to clean is the dental mold lab. Molding materials overflow from the casts, like batter baked on the sides of a waffle iron, and a layer of fine powder covers every surface. “It’s real dirty. Actually, this looks good. When the students are all back, it will look worse. There’s dust on the floors and footprints in the hallways,” Seymore said. “When the school is running full, you might be here an hour.”

“I have to do light duty, pick up all the trash and wipe down whatever’s on the table,” said Septina Stone, shown above dusting in the dental mold lab. Stone was also on the skeleton crew that kept the dental school clean in the early days of the pandemic. “It was OK because nobody was here. We sanitized everything and washed hands a lot.”

“In the clinic, where they see the patients, they wipe down the chairs, so we don’t touch the chairs,” Seymore said. “We wipe down the sinks and the counters and the door handles,” as housekeeper Karen Moore is shown doing above. Below, housekeeper Saw Lay disinfects an area overlooking the atrium in Koury Oral Health Sciences Building.

Housekeeping by the numbers: 400 employees, 245 buildings, 24 zone managers, 17-20 building environmental service technicians per zone

“When they gave out the vaccine, we were all front-line workers, so I got mine in December. Everybody has it over here except two people,” said Seymore, shown here checking in with housekeeper Hnin Oo Wai at the beginning of third shift. They had a few people in isolation. “They didn’t pass it to anybody here. They were exposed when they went home, from their family member. But nobody ever got it from here.”

“It’s a challenge to keep a full staff when people are out sick or they have a family member who is sick,” said zone manager Henry Black, pictured above. “I’ll always step in to take care of their job and everything. That frees up the crew leader.”

“We get a lot of requests every night. In the pandemic time, we are disinfecting all the time,” said Myo Tun, assistant director of housekeeping services, pictured above. “We need to be socially distanced and get the job done. Before, we did training when we sat down in the same room together. But now we can’t do training together. We have to separate and do four people at a time.”

Just after midnight, Black heads to another building to check on other housekeepers.

As demonstrated by this housekeeper, shown above heading to his assigned area, the work in Zone 215 continues despite the pandemic. “Everybody is afraid of COVID,” Tun said, “but we are going to get the job done anyway.”