Can we wash away COVID-19?

Aneth Ng-Lim

Posted at Jun 15 2020 10:22 AM

In the last 100 days, it feels like I have washed my hands more times than I have in my whole life. The fear of being infected with COVID-19 has made me go out and buy enough hand soap to last us through this pandemic, and maybe a bit more.

I wash after receiving deliveries. Then I wash all the deliveries. Then I wash again after washing the deliveries. And I do it all again the next day.

In the middle of my mundane hand washing, I received an email from my trusted laundry service that they are reopening. I was relieved to finally be able to claim bedsheets and blankets that I was not able to retrieve when the Enhanced Community Quarantine (ECQ) immediately took effect and they had to close their doors.

But then I worried: after all these weeks, are those bedsheets and blankets COVID-19 free?

Have you heard of the 5-day laundry rule?

When in doubt, listen to what the experts say, and I am grateful that our 27-year old laundry service has done the research for me.

With no clear guidelines from the national and local government for laundry washing (we can guess their hands are full of other things), Metropole turned to CINET, a laundry organization based in Europe with over 750,000 member companies, who offered the 5-day rule. 

In brief, all soiled items should be incubated for 5 days at room temperature and this will ensure that the COVID-19 virus has been made inactive.

Newer guidelines from the American Industrial Hygiene Association suggests the 5 days can be cut down to 3 days. I prefer to err on the safe side and will observe the 5-day rule at home. 

Whether you plan to go to Metropole or to another laundry shop or manage your own laundry, these simple steps may be useful:

#1 Sort laundry items and seal in plastic bags

It’s no longer safe to bring in items in hampers or eco bags or other porous packaging when going to laundry shops. Best to also separate household items from personal clothing items. Among personal clothing items, you may want to also separate the ones only worn at home and the ones worn when going out.

#2 At receiving, items should be weighed but not counted 

This will prevent the virus from becoming airborne. Do your counting and sorting at home. If your laundry shop has a different system, ask them why and see if the answer makes your comfortable.

#3 All soiled items should be incubated for 5 days at room temperature to ensure that the COVID virus has been made inactive 

Consider this when planning your clothing needs. The wait for virus-free items is worth it. I also use the 5-day airing out for new clothing items purchased during the ECQ. After all, I can never be sure of where the new clothes were stored before they were delivered.

Metropole won’t let COVID-19 sink them.

The husband and wife team of Jojo and Zaida Asia started Metropole in 1993 and steadily grew their company. Before the ECQ, they had over 150 employees and 45 branches.

Metropole was the first in the country to place its washing machines and facilities up-front and in plain view of customers. 

“Washing, drying and pressing are all done at the branches where we integrated the washing area with the reception desk. This way our clients can see first-hand that their laundry is being processed in a systematic and hygienic environment,” explains Jojo.

A laundry shop educates customers of the 5-day rule. Contributed photo

I admit that’s what attracted my husband and I to go to Metropole for our laundry needs from the time we got married. And as we changed addresses, we were always quick to check if there was a Metropole in the neighborhood.

Another draw? They offer a wide range of laundry services from the full service wash-dry fold service, to professional dry-cleaning, to wet-cleaning, to leather cleaning, and most recently, they also introduced ultra-sonic sneakers cleaning.

Before COVID-19, Metropole’s receiving area always featured stacks of dirty laundry for processing, sometimes too high I can barely see their friendly employees. With ECQ, all branches shut down, and Jojo and his wife waited for government guidance on what to do next.

Getting your business ready for COVID-19

To their credit, Jojo and Zaida were among the first to sound the alarm on the potential business impact of COVID-19. 

“We began monitoring the virus in January and through branch memos provided regular information to our staff,” recalls Jojo. 

Back in February, memos posted rhetorical questions like if you were placed in quarantine and cannot leave the house for 14 days, do you have enough food and drink? And what can you do while stuck at home for two weeks?

Jojo and Zaida kept issuing memos that covered action plans against the virus, even a lockdown checklist. In their last memo before ECQ, they advised staff that they could go on emergency leave if they are worried about reporting for work because of COVID-19. 

“We thought we were prepared because of the checklist and procedures in the branch memos. The next developments made us realize how unprepared we were,” relates Jojo.

Not washing their hands of their frontliners

“When the government declared ECQ, we made a decision that life comes ahead of revenue and all branches were instructed to suspend operations,” shares Jojo.

But that did not mean they could take a break. While the future of their company looked bleak, Zaida worked tirelessly to ensure all their employees received the benefits from DOLE CAMP (Department of Labor and Employment - Guidelines on the COVID-19 Adjustment Measures Program) and SSS SBWS (Social Security System – Small Business Wage Subsidy). When there was a delay in the release of the cash assistance, Jojo and Zaida tapped their ATM payroll system.

Then they got to work on preparing their branches for reopening. 

“We had to make sure that we will be able to provide a safe work place for our employees. We attended webinars to know the best practices and in the absence of any other workable protocol, we decided to follow the 5-day rule of CINET. We shared the information to customers and also to local laundry groups to guide other laundry shop owners,” narrates Jojo.

Back in business and taking it one day at a time

Metropole has reopened its doors to clients with employees reporting to work on volunteer duty, meaning they can opt not to go to work at any time for safety reasons. And every day poses a different set of challenges.

For one, they did not get any break on paying rent so without revenue during ECQ, that ate up their working capital. 

“We wrote to all our lessors to ask for assistance, and they replied with legalities instead of extending assistance,” wails Jojo.

Their new operating schedule with limited hours and staff is also tough on customers. The 5-day safety rule takes a bit of getting used to, but it’s all part of the new normal everyone is embracing these days.

“Revenue since resuming operations will not be sufficient to cover utilities as they are only enough for salaries and supplies. Our sales projections for the next months are expected to be down as most customers will be working from home. Keeping our business hygienic with PPEs and thermal scanners and foot baths costs a lot of money. COVID-19 has made us a start-up again as all rules have changed,” tells Jojo.

Still he and his wife, even their children who became purchasing manager, social media officer and administrative staff during the lockdown, remain committed to face the challenges to reciprocate the dedication displayed by their employees. 

According to Jojo: “More than ever our employees need our support to provide for their daily needs. We get our strength from our employees who bike or walk to work, decide to be away from their families and stay-in at the branches, communicate with customers that the shops are open for service, and render countless sacrifices. We shall take care of our employees and trust that God will take care of us.”

Disclaimer: The views in this blog are those of the blogger and do not necessarily reflect the views of ABS-CBN Corp.