As I turned off the faucet after washing my hands in the bathroom, it was quiet.
Then I heard the giggling. Mischievous 5-year-old twin boy laughter.
As I turned the door handle, I realized I was trapped. My sons, Quinn and Levi, had secretly blockaded the door with baskets full of clean clothing. To strengthen their barricade, they piled on several cloth crates full of building blocks, plastic robots and wooden trains.
The boys stood outside the bathroom, laughing—challenging me to try to come out. I could not budge the door.
I’ve been trying to work from home during the COVID-19 crisis. I had just 15 minutes to file a news story to meet my deadline, and being trapped in the bathroom didn’t help. My wife, Melissa, a public school speech therapist, was in another room, tied up with a work teleconference and scrambling to meet her own deadlines.
The kids had assumed control. Once again.
This is how “work from home” operates in these days of COVID-19.
At home, we’re supposed to be relatively insulated from a disease that we’re told is hiding in plain sight and could kill us. Safer is better. OK, fine. But how are our minds doing?
I’ve been desperate enough a few times to turn to online advice from well-meaning national experts. How do two working parents stay afloat in their full-time jobs while caring for two homebound 5-year-olds? We’re talking about little boys who recently sneaked outside, very near the street, to hunt “giant earthworms.”
One expert guy, Marquette University psychologist Douglas Woods, recently offered tips for families trying to work through a pandemic.
Melissa needs that advice, too, as she works alongside me, patiently corralling our two young worm hunters. She’s doing so while chained to a computer, sighing shaky breaths as she tries to deliver individual (and virtual) speech therapy sessions to dozens of elementary school students. She’s doing so from the not-very-comfy confines of the dining room table.
Woods says we shouldn’t work from the dinner table. That table is fine for “household” routines, he says, but it might be a bad spot to do actual work. He suggests we find a space that’s removed from our usual domestic rhythms, an island of inactivity where we usually never go.
In our house, that spot is the one tidy corner of our toy-strewn basement that’s dominated by a huge, mid-20th-century Steelcase desk. That spot has become my “office.”
Weighing the online advice of Corinn Cross, a California pediatrician and American Academy of Pediatrics spokeswoman, Melissa and I have tried to break up our daily work with activities that involve our kids. Outdoors.
The other day, Levi, Quinn and I built mixed-media sculpture out of firewood and river stones the boys have strewn all over the backyard. Building a sculpture thrilled the boys (and doubled as their day’s art education?). The break made me feel refreshed and more creative. Later that day, I actually met a news deadline.
Melissa has been wishy-washy about the plywood desk I’ve offered to build her in the spare room. It’s mainly because she wants to be able to watch the boys play outside. You can’t cordon yourself off too much.
Along with the love, the care, the human attention that kids (and yes, adults) need from each other right now, there are constant tribulations.
“Dad! DAD! Does a cat say ‘meow’ or ‘weow’?”
Twin brothers who are 5 and still learning the difference between “m” and “w” are known to debate such things to the point of fisticuffs. And bloody noses can be scary, especially if you’ve never had one before.
Days after my sons’ fistfight over the alphabet, everyone is in one piece. We’re still struggling through this difficult time, but we’ll manage. We’re still healthy.
As I write this, my sons are behind me, screeching. But it’s a happy screech. Or singing. Not sure which.
I’m sitting and looking at the cat drawing Levi colored with purple marker. It’s pinned to the wall above my basement desk. The misspelled catcall, “weow,” reminds me that we’re all learning as we go. Especially right now.
Before long, I’ll be out of this COVID-19 bunker and back in my newsroom. All of this will pass.
But that drawing of Weow the Purple Cat? I’ll keep it forever.
While many businesses temporarily closed their doors or reduced services following Gov. Tony Evers’ safer-at-home order, cleaning and sanitation companies are busier than ever.
TLC Cleaning in Elkhorn cleans area homes and businesses, scrubbing everything from doorknobs and laundry to carpets and floors.
Matt Hansen took ownership of the company, started in the 1980s, this fall. He said business right now is more focused on companies than residential homes, but there’s an uptick in demand overall.
“There are some people in the residential side who are older that have had health issues in the past, and they’re kind of scared to have us come into their homes and have postponed cleanings … but they (businesses) are open so they want to make sure their services, bathrooms, lockers and everything else is clean,” he said.
“We tell people every time we leave one of our jobs, our workers are disinfecting everything before they head to the next house.”
Carlo Nevicosi, deputy director with the Walworth County Health Department, said the county hasn’t created any new guidelines for methods or materials that cleaning companies should use during the stay-at-home order.
“Often, common hand soaps and general cleaning supplies are more effective than a harsher and maybe harder-to-get cleaning product,” he said. “Wash your hands, wash your hands and wash your hands again.”
The county health department, along with other health professionals across the globe, are still studying COVID-19 to learn more about the virus and where it might be most dangerous.
“I think we’re still understanding the transmissibility of COVID-19 and how easily it spreads on different surfaces outside of the health care services,” Nevicosi said.
For cleaning companies such as TLC Cleaning, that means ensuring every surface gets touched and sanitized.
“As soon as we walk into a job, we’re disinfecting,” Hansen said.
Workers don’t report to the business to start their shifts. They go straight to job sites through an online scheduling program.
“So we’re able to keep social distancing while helping keep places clean,” Hansen said.
The online program allows managers at TLC to see their employees on a map in real time. Should an employee feel ill, the company would have an exact roadmap of the places that employee cleaned and who helped clean those places, Hansen said.
So far, no employees at TLC Cleaning have shown any symptoms of COVID-19, Hansen said.
Workers have been directed to stay home if they begin to feel any kind of sickness, and they are wearing masks, gloves and other protective equipment while on the job, he said.
Shockwave, a disinfectant the company has used for years, has always listed coronaviruses as pathogens it is effective against.
“The other thing people need to understand is when we use a disinfectant, we don’t put it on and leave the house. You use them to kill something. For example, you kill the mold, and now you have a dead mold spore that’s just as bad. You have to come back and remove the mold spore and cleaner to extract it and finish the disinfecting. We do that for all of our cleanings.”
Nevicosi said there is a difference between cleaning and disinfecting.
“Cleaning is the removal of germs, dirt, and impurities from surfaces. Cleaning doesn’t kill germs, but by removing them, it lowers their numbers and risk of spreading infection,” he said.
“Disinfecting refers to using chemicals to kill germs on surfaces. This process does not necessarily clean dirty surfaces or remove germs, but by killing germs on a surface after cleaning, it can further lower the risk of spreading infection.”
Nevicosi recommends cleaning frequently touched surfaces such as doorknobs, light switches and electronics with a detergent or soap and then disinfecting them using EPA-registered products.
If a person in a home is isolated for COVID-19, Nevicosi recommends cleaning and disinfecting high-touch surfaces in common areas and dedicating a separate bathroom for the ill person.
Last week, TLC Cleaning got a call from an Elkhorn real estate company. A family had bought a home, and the new owners were worried about moving in under the current pandemic.
The company went in, disinfected the carpets and cleaned all hard surfaces and handles on the house.
“How much more clean can it be when you’ve disinfected the carpet, the door jams, everything?” Hansen asked.
“But it really gives those people peace of mind, and that’s what we hope to do for people. You just have to think about what things people have been touching and who’s been touching them.”
Nevicosi said similar precautions have been taken by Walworth County employees.
“Our No. 1 strategy when things started to get bad was we cleared our building out and started working from home for as many employees as possible. We’ve got at least a two-thirds reduction of people. We’ve also increased surface cleaning every time rooms or furniture are used communally.”
Nevicosi said cleaning and sanitizing by both professionals and everyday residents can help flatten the infection curve. If people take precautions and follow social distancing, he said better days could be ahead.
“I’m sensing some hope in Wisconsin that we are approaching the tip of the curve,” Nevicosi said. “My opinion is that what we’ve been doing with social distancing and the stay at home order is working.”
Loren David Brooks
Ronald “Razz” McGinnity
Walter A. Walikonis