April 3: MIT Medical answers your COVID-19 questions. Got a question about COVID-19? Send it to us at CovidQ@mit.edu, and we’ll do our best to provide an answer.
We have two household cleaners who wear masks and gloves to periodically clean and disinfect our house. They wear these items presumably for their own personal safety. Does their use of the items in any way affect our own safety? Can you give us an opinion on whether we should advise them to eliminate using these items when they enter our house?
The use of house-cleaning services during this time of social distancing raises a number of questions, the most crucial being whether it’s safe to continue these services at all.
Unfortunately, there’s no one-size-fits-all answer. On the one hand, the reason we’re staying at home as much as possible is because we’re trying to lessen our risk of being exposed to the virus, which we know is circulating in the community outside of our doors. And we know that every person who enters our home from the outside increases that risk incrementally.
Based on that reasoning, and taking into account your individual risk of complications from contracting the virus, such as age or underlying medical conditions, it may make sense to suspend house-cleaning services during this time. (However, recognizing that house-cleaners are often immigrants and low-wage workers, you may want to consider continuing to pay them if you can afford to do so.)
On the other hand, if you do continue to use house-cleaning services, it’s important to take precautions that protect both you and the cleaners. Even though they are there to make your house clean, they could still transmit the virus to you, or you to them, if either of you were infected. The protective gear your cleaners are wearing should help to protect everyone, and you definitely shouldn’t tell them to lose the mask and gloves. But you should also make sure that they’re not wearing the same pair of gloves to clean your house that they wore to clean the one before yours. Make sure they don a fresh pair of disposable gloves when they enter your home and change them often while they are working. Stay at least six feet away from both cleaners while they are in your home. And ask them not to come if they feel sick or if you become ill. You might also think about trying to limit the amount of time they spend in your home each time they visit; perhaps more time-consuming cleaning jobs, like washing windows, can wait another month or two.
There’s no way to remove all risks associated with having people come into your house to clean, but being vigilant about following these precautions will mitigate these risks if you continue to use house-cleaning services during this time.