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Meet the Cleaning Staff on the Job, Day and Night

Pitt has world-class medical experts to guide its pandemic response and a campus community that’s committed to caring for one another by following their advice.

Campus spaces have been equipped with sanitizer stations and disinfectant wipes; ventilation has been adjusted to maximize fresh air; classroom capacities have been reduced; and reminders have been posted to keep best practices top-of-mind.

But the University’s pandemic response has another line of defense: the Pitt cleaning staff.

Day and night, custodians and housekeepers have been spraying, wiping and deep-cleaning spaces where members of the Pitt community live, work, play and learn.

And they’ll continue over the winter break, giving Pitt buildings an additional deep cleaning.

Combined with healthy practices encouraged across the University—wearing masks, washing hands and maintaining physical distance—their relentless efforts and careful concern for enhanced cleaning protocols have played a crucial role in the fight against COVID-19.

“Our cleaning staff have one of the most important and unsung roles in keeping the University of Pittsburgh community safe,” said Chancellor Patrick Gallagher. “Since the pandemic began, they have risen to this daunting challenge every hour of every day and earned our heartfelt respect and gratitude along the way.”

The University’s cleaning staff work together to protect students, faculty, staff—and one another, said housekeeping manager Michelle Smith. “We are really trying to keep everybody healthy,” she said.

Clad in appropriate protective gear, they’ve stepped up, using enhanced cleaning protocols, approved cleaning products and specialized sanitizing equipment.

Here’s a glimpse into their world.

By day, Pitt’s housekeepers clean and sanitize student housing. High-touch areas including elevator buttons and light switches receive a detailed cleaning each shift and additional cleanings throughout the day.

Housekeepers become a familiar face to students, and often play a role that goes beyond official duties.

Mei Yu-Kephalogianis, a mother of two daughters at Pitt, treats residents of Nordenberg Hall like her own.

She recognizes the stress of leaving home and transitioning to adulthood.

“You’ll be okay,” she’s assured countless first-year students over her 10 years at Pitt, whether they’re suffering from homesickness or a cold.

“We have to set the example to the young students,” she said. She models proper behavior, wearing a mask and maintaining physical distance. Her approach: “Wash your hands, keep clean, have faith and don’t be afraid.”

A person in blue Pitt protective gear cleans exercise equipment

At night, the process continues.

Alan Nance works overnight in Salk Hall, where his job includes cleaning the School of Dental Medicine’s dental clinic. He works alone, dusting, emptying trash and wiping each chair, sink and counter.

“COVID is serious. This is not a joke,” he said.

Bill Brinza normally handles setups for events during his overnight shift in the William Pitt Union. The Ballroom, Assembly Room, dining rooms and even Nordy’s Place were pressed into service this fall to serve as physically distanced classrooms.

At the Fanny Edel Falk Laboratory School, desks have been spread out to accommodate distancing, said Vatus Davenport, who cleans the kindergarten classrooms, library and wood shop each night at the school affiliated with Pitt’s School of Education.

Disinfecting wipes are at the door and signs posted to remind students to wash their hands.

“It’s a joint effort,” she said, noting that teachers are cleaning during the day.

Cleaning at night involves vacuuming, sweeping, emptying trash, and wiping desks, chairs and high-touch areas with disinfectant.

Spray disinfecting is the final step.

Maurice Douglas uses a backpack sprayer to disinfect blocks in a kindergarten classroom. All surfaces and spaces—from restrooms to lockers to toys —are sprayed at the end of the shift.

The work of Pitt’s dedicated custodians and housekeepers hasn’t gone unnoticed. Students frequently say thank you, said Yu-Kephalogianis.

And Phi Sigma Rho sorority members created notes of appreciation for the maintenance staff.

Supervisors posted the cards near time clocks across campus for staff to see.

“It makes us happy. We are all trying to do our best,” she said.