Clean workspaces are a team effort in a pandemic

custodian disinfects a teaching table in an auditorium

Custodian Carol Ann Musser disinfects the teaching table in a Carver Hall auditorium Tuesday as part of deep cleaning efforts during spring break week. Photo by Christopher Gannon.

The depletion of disinfectants and sanitizers on store shelves suggests central Iowans are well-armed to stave off the novel coronavirus in their homes. Are they as attentive to their workplaces?

Fewer students on campus spring break week has freed up some hours for facilities planning and management's (FPM) 10 custodial teams to tackle strategic cleaning assignments in classrooms, lounges and other common spaces. Tuesday morning found a team in Carver Hall cleaning and disinfecting "all the places people touch," according to custodian Carol Ann Musser: doors, doorknobs, lecterns, chair arms, desks, bathroom fixtures.

The teams have their assignments, and other employees shouldn't be giving them cleaning instructions. FPM director of facility services Bob Currie said requests for additional services are assessed on a case-by-case basis according to a team's workload. Call 294-5100 to request more frequent or extra services. Concerns about potentially contaminated spaces due to the coronavirus outbreak should be shared with the workforce protection working group, one of about a dozen activated under the university's coronavirus emergency operations plan. Director of environmental health and safety Paul Richmond, 294-9698, leads that team. Concerns about possible COVID-19 symptoms in a university employee should be shared with the health services working group, whose members can help with screening questions to determine appropriate actions. Thielen Student Health Center director Erin Baldwin, 294-5802, leads that team.

Richmond advised employees to be vigilant about their own work areas.

"We're working through a highly unusual time for our university, and we know our custodial teams are fulfilling their daily and weekly tasks with that in mind," Richmond said. "The workforce protection group encourages employees to be proactive, for example to wipe down their own work stations more frequently or attend to their own break rooms, as needed.

"There's nothing inappropriate about a cooperative approach to cleaning during a pandemic," he said.

Teams at work

FPM's 130-plus custodians, who clean most academic and administrative buildings -- more than 7 million square feet -- are following their normal procedures using their normal products, said custodial services manager Michelle Lenkaitis. ISU cleaning standards are guided by APPA, the national association for educational facilities. During every winter flu season the FPM teams are asked to be extra thorough in sanitizing light switches, hand railings and door handles. And in the last few weeks, Lenkaitis said she has encouraged them to sanitize sinks and surfaces in restrooms again before their shift ends -- for everyone's benefit.

"They're feeling especially vulnerable right now since they're working in public spaces all the time. They're on the front line," Lenkaitis said.

When normal university operations return, Lenkaitis said custodians will resume their usual daily and weekly services. The key pieces of that routine are:

  • Daily cleaning in restrooms that includes mopping floors, removing trash, cleaning toilets, restocking supplies and sanitizing sinks, faucets and door handles.
  • Weekly cleaning in classrooms and teaching labs that includes floors (mop, sweep or vacuum), dusting, removing trash, cleaning windows and sanitizing door handles and table tops -- known as a "full" clean. Additional trash removal and floor spot cleaning get done two times each week.
  • Weekly "full" cleans in meeting rooms, lounges, library study areas and kitchenettes. Kitchen trash is removed daily.
  • Weekly "full" cleans in corridors, entries and stairways, with an additional spot cleaning.
  • A "full" clean in offices every other week. Lenkaitis said custodians sanitize desktops that are free of clutter, but employees are responsible for cleaning their own computer screens, keyboards and telephones.

Specialty areas -- such as food preparation, research, diagnostics, health care and child care -- use specific cleaning procedures. For example, ISU Dining complies with all regulations enforced by the Iowa Department of Inspections and Appeals' Food and Consumer Safety Bureau. Dining staff also are cleaning high-touch surfaces more frequently.

Since Tuesday and through March 31, ISU Dining locations are restricted, by gubernatorial proclamation, to carry-out service.

University vehicles

Transportation services has adopted new cleaning protocols for fleet vehicles, said director Kathy Wellik. All vehicles were deep cleaned and disinfected last week. Staff members are cleaning returned vehicles with disinfectant spray and wipes, in addition to the regular vacuuming and spot cleaning. At the time they pick up a vehicle, customers will have access to disinfectant wipes to repeat the process if they wish.

Multiple times each day, staff members also disinfect all surfaces in the vehicle kiosk room, such as door handles, key cabinet, keyboard and the kiosk.

Spring semester will be completed online; university remains open

Iowa State will provide virtual instruction for the remainder of the spring semester to protect the health and safety of students, faculty and staff, President Wendy Wintersteen announced March 18 in a campus email. It replaces a two-week plan to teach online, with an option to extend.

The university will remain open, but Wintersteen shared other changes to the delivery or availability of campus services and programs. The residence department will close its residence halls but allow students who can't return home to request an exception to stay on campus. The move-out window is March 20-May 9. University apartments will remain open. Parks library, university museums, recreation services facilities, Reiman Gardens, Stephens Auditorium, Fisher Theater and the Memorial Union, including ISU Book Store, all closed earlier this week and will remain closed until further notice.

Reiterating a message she shared earlier this week, Wintersteen also asked the campus community to practice social distancing -- keeping at least six feet between you and others -- and offer flexible work arrangements to reduce the transmission of COVID-19 cases.

Spring commencement

Spring commencement ceremonies, normally separate events for undergraduates, graduate students and veterinary medicine students, have been canceled. Campus leaders are working on plans for a livestreamed graduation address in May, and spring graduates also will have the opportunity to participate in the December commencement ceremony.

These university steps, intended to limit the risk of infection from the coronavirus, are consistent with Gov. Kim Reynolds' March 17 declaration of a public health disaster emergency and state Board of Regents president Mike Richards' March 18 state of emergency declaration on all three regent university campuses. Richards' announcement included relaxing several rules in the Iowa Administrative Code or the board's policy manual that address use of sick leave and donating or receiving vacation time during the time of emergency. Supervisors should not interpret and implement Richard's announcement on their own. Wintersteen said ISU leaders will share next week the details of what those changes mean for Iowa State employees. Until then, the university's current policies and procedures on employee leave remain in effect.

In her message to the campus community, Wintersteen acknowledged the concerns and frustration that will result from these decisions.

"We know these new developments raise questions and concerns, as well as many emotions, including frustration and disappointment," she wrote. "As you know, these are unprecedented circumstances. We ask for your patience and understanding as we work through this rapidly changing situation and prioritize the health and safety of our community."

Other changes

Employees and students are encouraged to regularly check the campus safety page for updates and information. The page includes a link with the latest changes and closures on campus.

Wintersteen included these directives for the rest of the semester in her memo:

  • University meetings must be moved online. If an in-person meeting is necessary, it should include no more than 10 people who practice social distancing.
  • Academic support services, including academic advising and career services, will be provided online or by phone.
  • Laboratories, studios, performance instruction, computer labs and other experiential learning sections will not be held in person, and the impacted academic program will decide how and whether to offer substitute assignments or makeup activities.
  • In line with the governor's public health directive allowing only food carry-out or delivery, ISU Dining has posted modified hours for a half-dozen locations.

The latest on the campus impact of COVID-19

The unprecedented response to the COVID-19 pandemic evolves rapidly. Campuswide communication and regularly updated FAQs -- including one specifically for employees -- are available on the campus safety page. Each week as needed, Inside Iowa State will recap how coronavirus is affecting the university and share relevant resources for employees. On March 19, here is what Iowa State faculty and staff should know:


Faculty are preparing to resume classes March 23 with online instruction. Courses will be taught online for the rest of the spring semester, President Wendy Wintersteen announced in a March 18 campus message. The Center for Excellence in Learning and Teaching has a website with advice on course continuity and online learning. Senior vice president and provost Jonathan Wickert and his team are addressing academic and instruction issues in updates posted on the provost's website. The Faculty Senate released a statement addressing teaching quality and academic integrity. All academic support services will be via phone or online for the rest of the semester. Resources for shifting academic advising online also are available on the provost's website.


Iowa State will stay open but is committed to supporting social distancing to limit transmission of COVID-19. Employees should work from home if possible, Wintersteen said in a March 17 message. For employees who must work on campus, supervisors should make arrangements that promote social distancing and employee health and safety. An information technology services (ITS) webpage provides remote-working resources. A WorkCyte webpage has advice on business continuity in Workday. ITS is hosting a live online tutorial March 19 and 20 (1-2 p.m.) on using Webex, a video conferencing application licensed for all ISU employees and students. The office of the vice president for research is maintaining an FAQ about the impact on research. 

Leave changes

State Board of Regents president Mike Richards on March 18 declared a state of emergency at the three regent universities and temporarily changed several policies covering sick leave and vacation time. Supervisors should not interpret and implement the Board of Regents announcement on their own. ISU administrators will share details about those changes later next week. Until then, the university’s current policies and procedures on employee leave remain in effect.

Work-life balance

In her March 17 message, Wintersteen urged supervisors to accommodate special arrangements for employees affected by health concerns or child care challenges caused by COVID-19, which has prompted K-12 schools in Iowa to close for at least four weeks at the recommendation of Gov. Kim Reynolds. University human resources (UHR) has provided guidance for working remotely, with specific tips for both employees and supervisors. UHR also released guidance on balancing child care and work.

Status of spread

As of 5:30 p.m. March 18, none of the 38 cases of COVID-19 detected by testing in Iowa were in Ames or Story County, according to the Iowa Department of Public Health (IDPH). IDPH regularly posts information online about the number of positive tests reported to the department.

What's closed and canceled

All events on campus are canceled through May 9, including the spring commencement ceremony. Employees must move work meetings online. Many public buildings are closed, including the ISU Book Store, the Memorial Union, Parks Library, Recreation Services facilities, Reiman Gardens and University Museums. Spring athletics seasons are canceled, including practices and competitions. Check the changes and closures webpage for updated information. Residence halls are closing March 22 for most students, but on-campus apartments will remain open. ISU Dining is open for a restricted level of carryout service at limited locations and hours. Detailed information on the impact on campus housing and dining is available online

Travel restrictions

University-sponsored trips outside of the U.S. were canceled March 14, and all faculty, staff and students who were abroad were recalled. Nonessential travel outside of Iowa is prohibited indefinitely. Travel within Iowa can continue but should be reduced when possible and practical.

Employee health coverage expands to virtual doctor visits


A screen shot of the Doctors on Demand website.

Iowa State employees and their families enrolled in the university's health insurance plan can visit a doctor by video anywhere and anytime thanks to a service that has been newly covered since Jan. 1.

Employee health insurance plans with Wellmark now include virtual visits with Doctor on Demand, making the out-of-pocket cost of using the online telehealth provider the same as a typical in-network office visit. Under the BlueHMO plan, that's a $10 copayment. Under the BluePPO plan, it's a $20 copayment and, in some cases, 10% coinsurance.

But effective March 16, employees temporarily won't pay any out-of-pocket cost-sharing for virtual visits. Cost-sharing is waived for telemedicine through June 16 to help avoid spreading COVID-19.

Expanding availability

Via Doctor on Demand's website or its mobile app on iOS or Android, users connect with board-certified and licensed physicians who examine patients over video calls. Patients can either see the next available doctor or set up an appointment in advance with a provider they choose. Doctors are available 24/7.

Seeing a physician through Doctor on Demand takes about 10 minutes, and the typical wait time for an immediate consultation is five minutes. Doctors take a patient's medical history, perform an examination and recommend treatment. If needed, they can order tests at a local lab or send a prescription to a local pharmacy. Doctors won't prescribe medications considered controlled substances under federal drug laws or in other clinically inappropriate situations.

Patients can allow notes from virtual visits to be shared automatically with their regular primary care provider or receive a doctor's letter for their employer, if needed. 

Adding virtual visits doesn't expand the medical services employee health plans cover, but it makes coverage more convenient. It allows for in-network clinic visits while traveling anywhere in the U.S. and provides all-hours access to nonemergency care.

"Offering telemedicine expands the number of providers our employees can access as well as the times this access is possible," said Ed Holland, benefits director for university human resources (UHR).

What it's best for

Consulting with a medical provider without visiting a clinic or hospital has taken on special importance due to the COVID-19 pandemic, which is expected to strain U.S. health systems. Doctor on Demand has a webpage devoted to coronavirus, including an assessment to help determine if you should see a doctor about potential COVID-19 symptoms, which include fever, cough and shortness of breath.

Telemedicine isn't appropriate for every medical concern. Remote diagnosis by video is ideal for coughs, fevers, bronchitis, sore throats, allergies, sinus infections, nausea, skin conditions, pink eye, urinary tract infections and prescriptions refills for chronic conditions. Seek local emergency care for conditions such as broken bones, severe burns and lacerations, chest pain and numbness, loss of consciousness, and vomiting or coughing up blood. Pediatric ear infections are another common concern that must be diagnosed in person.  

Mental health treatment is available through Doctors on Demand, including psychological treatment such as therapy. Mental health appointments must be set up in advance, and psychiatry isn't covered. 

Users need to create a profile with Doctors on Demand to use the service. Each adult covered by a health plan needs their own profile. Parents use their own profiles to request care for their children. Download the app or go to to sign up using member ID number and group number found on your Wellmark insurance card.

For more information, see UHR's health insurance webpage, read Wellmark's FAQ or call Doctors on Demand at 800-997-6196.