School may be out in Denver, but custodians are working eight hours a day to clean and disinfect classrooms, cafeterias, hallways, and other “high-touch” surfaces, officials said.

Trena Marsal, Denver Public Schools’ executive director of facilities management, explained what that looks like: Custodial staff at each school are spraying surfaces with commercial-grade disinfectant that Marsal said can “kill any virus that could be present on the surface.”

Custodians are also cleaning, which means wiping down surfaces to remove dirty particles — a step that, due to time constraints, wasn’t always being taken while schools were still open.

The federal Centers for Disease Control recommends both cleaning and disinfecting to prevent the spread of the new coronavirus. Marsal said Denver is following that advice.

High-touch surfaces such as student desks, light switches, handrails, even walls that students may touch are being specially targeted, Marsal said. Custodians are also vacuuming carpets, but not shampooing them like they do over the summer because Marsal said that hasn’t been identified as necessary by the CDC.

Once custodial staff clean and disinfect a classroom, they mark the door to show it’s been done. District managers will walk through each school to sign off that it’s clean. Marsal said the district is aiming to have every school done by the end of next week, though it may take longer.

The earliest students could return to school is April 20. Denver Public Schools had originally planned to welcome students back on April 7, but Colorado Gov. Jared Polis on Wednesday ordered all schools in the state closed through April 17, a Friday.

“Everyone wants to feel comfortable that once the kids do return, the environment is safe for them,” Marsal said. “And that’s also important to us.”

Before Denver Public Schools announced last week it would close its schools for several weeks to slow the spread of the new coronavirus, it temporarily closed three schools where parents of students tested positive for COVID-19. Those schools were to be cleaned and disinfected before opening to students again. But before they could reopen, the district shut all schools.

To speed up disinfection in the face of COVID-19, Denver Public Schools bought six handheld electrostatic spray guns that can more quickly disinfect an area. Custodians are using two different disinfectants called Oxivir and Morning Mist, Maral said. Both are made by a company called Diversey, and both are on a list of disinfectants for use against COVID-19 published by the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency.

As far as protective gear for the custodians, Marsal said they are wearing gloves and goggles.

“We haven’t received any advice from the CDC that any full body gear is necessary,” she said.

The CDC does recommend cleaning staff wear gloves and gowns for locations with suspected or confirmed cases of coronavirus. But because there have been no confirmed cases among Denver Public Schools students or staff, Marsal said the district is not requiring cleaning staff to wear gowns.

After the custodians finish cleaning all the schools, Marsal said they will continue to be paid their full salaries through the end of the year, even if the school closures stretch on. Polis said this week that it’s “increasingly unlikely” students will return this school year.

Jose Garcia cleans a window at Bruce Randolph School in Denver on Thursday, March 19, 2020.
PHOTO CREDIT: AAron Ontiveroz/The Denver Post