It was a down-in-the-mud presidential campaign, but the dirtiest part comes on Inauguration Day.
As Joe Biden lifts his right hand to take the oath of office at noon on Jan. 20 at the Capitol, a team of specially trained cleaners will be lifting their hands to disinfect the White House.
The executive mansion will get a deep clean after two Covid-19 outbreaks this fall led to President Donald Trump and members of his staff and family becoming infected.
The departure of one president and the arrival of another is always a fast but highly synchronized behind-the-scenes ballet by White House staff members and moving crews.
But this year is different. The shift means more than rearranging the Oval Office and putting new clothes in bedroom closets: It means a top-to-bottom disinfection amid a pandemic. Biden, who at 78 is taking office as the oldest president in U.S. history, is at high risk of complications from the virus.
So, the General Services Administration will oversee a thorough cleaning and disinfection of every doorknob, toilet handle, light switch, stair railing, telephone, elevator button, computer keyboard and other objects inside the 55,000-square-foot mansion at 1600 Pennsylvania Ave.
But can such a large building get fully clean in just five or six hours?
Experts say that should not be a problem with a large enough team and preparation time.
K. Mark Wiencek, lead microbiologist for South Carolina-based Contec Inc., which sells cleaning supplies to hospitals, said GSA cleaners should focus on the rooms last occupied by the Trump staff, since the virus can’t survive long on surfaces. Cleaning crews, he added, should wear masks and gloves to protect themselves and not introduce any germs.
He recommended replacing the air filters and using fogging and spraying disinfectant to kill viruses.
The GSA said it is already cleaning the White House East Wing and West Wing offices daily with disinfectant.
GSA officials said they expect no difficulties in making the transition and pledged that all furniture and surfaces would be cleaned. “GSA will thoroughly clean and disinfect the building spaces between the administrations and ensure that everything is up to standard,” a spokesperson said in a statement.
It’s vital that cleaners leave the cleaning chemicals on surfaces a full 10 minutes before wiping them down, said O.P. Almaraz, a disaster relief expert in West Covina, California, and president of Allied Restoration, which has cleaned dozens of businesses after suspected Covid cases.
“With a large enough crew, a professional disinfection company could apply disinfectants to the entire White House in six hours,” he said. It’s important, he explained, that the crew pay “special attention to points that may be touched often, like tabletops, door handles and light switches.”
As long as cleaners have an organized plan for each room, Almaraz doesn’t see them having trouble getting done before the Bidens move in at the end of the day.
Sheldon Yellen, CEO of Michigan-based Belfor Property Restoration, said cleaning crews need to be rehearsed and in fully ventilated suits to clean the White House in one afternoon.
“It’s a level 3 clean,” he said, noting the building needs the most intensive service because of confirmed Covid cases. That means disposing of anything that doesn’t have to stay for the Bidens, including pillows and bedsheets. He said books need to be wiped down, not just on the binding but all sides. He recommended cleaning the ductwork and ventilation systems as well.
Jack Shevel, co-founder of San Diego disinfection company Zappogen, said that because Covid-19 spreads by airborne transmission, it is best to disinfect using an electrostatic sprayer or fogger filled with a disinfectant designed to kill airborne pathogens. That covers a large area more easily than just wiping surfaces.
“To truly disinfect all those rooms quickly and thoroughly, they should be sprayed with a fine micron mist that can reach all crevices and surfaces evenly,” he said.
Still, the White House cleaners must be careful to remove paintings, antiques and other valuable items before spraying with disinfectant, said Ernesto Abel-Santos, professor of biochemistry at the University of Nevada-Las Vegas. Those items should be cleaned by hand.
Abel-Santos said a simple alcohol-based disinfectant should be enough to kill the Covid virus. Although the virus can be detected on some surfaces for days, it typically degrades within hours. People are much more likely to be infected by droplets expelled when someone coughs, sneezes or talks.
During the turnover, cleaners should focus on the most commonly used areas of the building, he said, such as the Oval Office and bedrooms. “The rest can get deep-cleaned as needed,” he added.
Even more important than cleaning, however, is asking the new president and his family and staff to physically distance, wear their masks and wash their hands, according to Abel-Santos.
“You don’t realize how many times in a day you touch your face with your hands,” he said. “If you touch a surface and then touch your face, it increases the probability of contagion.”
–Phil Galewitz, Kaiser Health News
Rick G says
How appropriate that the White House is getting a full cleaning and disinfecting. In more ways than one.
Biden should not touch that hotspot WH with a 10 foot pole. He should let it cool down for a while.
Funny Factoid says
I Read your headline, Thats not entirely true. There was one deeper. When Bill Clinton walked out of the whitehouse and G W Bush went in, he ordered the Oval Office cleaned after the Monica Lewinsky scandal. Of Course he did. He was caught joking on camera whats the first thing you’re going to do in the Oval Office? Well, I think were going to give it a good scrubbing first thing.
John Stove says
Difference being the “White House”….which encompasses all wings, meetings rooms, restrooms, kitchen and underground bunkers vs. the “oval office”, so yeah the headline is correct.
However it will be impossible to remove the stains of the WORST PRESIDENT IN THE HISTORY OF THE USA from history. The smell of deception, corruption despair and defeat can easily be aired out by pulling the drapes, opening the windows and let the sun shine in.
The Truth says
Trump can’t be dragged out of office fast enough. He’s still pouting over his landslide defeat in the election. I love watching Trump supporters grasp at every conspiracy theory they can about “election fraud” yet not one court victory for the Trump legal team. This is a money draw for Trump, he wants his supporters to believe this so that they can keep sending money his way. They’re just as incompetent as he is if they believe that and keep sending him money.
I don’t think it needs that much of a deep cleaning before Jan. 2021. But it definitely will after Biden is out, especially when he has his three dogs in there.
Rather 3 dogs than 45s three kids.
Why clean it. Biden is a dirty politician!
John Stove says
Still?……get over it snowflake….Trump lost by a landslide
If you cant accept this, move out of the way while the rest of us roll up our sleeves and fix this country instead of buying bigger flags for our pickup trucks and waving/screaming at the intersection.
If the White House is anything like the list of Flagler County Sheriff’s locations, it has mold spore issues and can’t be cleaned. As for Coronavirus, Biden just took the vaccine, he’s got immunity from that. Besides, Biden can’t get more than a dozen people in any town hall or other gathering to attend an event anyway. It’s the way Government does things, virtual meetings ?
Yeah cuz Staged Rallies err Superspreaders are what jackwipe and his loyalists should be doing You people are so gullible. And He lost anyway lol Go Figure Right?
I hope they remember to disinfect the bunker where Trump likes to hide.
E, ROBOT says
Translation: They’ll remove all the listening and snooping devices planted by Obama et al.
Mondexian Mama says
Try as we may, the stench of trump will linger way beyond the White House.