CHILLIWACK, B.C. -- They start with a protective suit, booties included. Then a belt, to hold the battery for a full-face respirator. But the layers of protective equipment don’t end there for cleaning crews tackling COVID-19.

It’s a service now being offered by some companies during the pandemic, including WINMAR Fraser Valley. While dealing with health hazards such as asbestos, mould, or sewer backups has always been part of the job for the restoration company, co-owner Victoria Smith said they’ve been getting calls about COVID-19 for a few months now, and that type of cleaning is happening "daily."

"We’ve been getting calls from all types of organizations. From government facilities, to health-care centres, to restaurants, to warehousing, and even businesses or offices that are slowly opening up," Smith said. “Sometimes what happens is there’s an employee that gets ill, and the business wants to take precautions.”

Crews double up on suits and gloves, incorporating a buddy system to help each other gear up properly, and wear full face respirators. There are designated areas at each work site for donning and removing protective equipment.

“We want to make sure that when we have left a space, that it is clean, and there’s no cross contamination,” Smith said. “So you want to be very methodical with your wiping, working top to bottom.”

Smith said workers are given regular breaks where they can get water, as it gets hot inside the protective layers. Smith said they use Health Canada approved cleaning products. some of which have different “dwell” times, or the amount of time recommended by the manufacturer that a product needs to sit to be effective.

“Some of them are thirty seconds, some of them are seven minutes, so you want to make sure you’re following the manufacturer’s guidelines,” Smith said.

Along with providing a list of products deemed effective against COVID-19, Health Canada has also released guidelines for cleaning, along with the B.C. Centre for Disease Control and WorkSafe BC. It’s a critical part of the reopening plan for many businesses and public services during the pandemic.

The Vancouver Health Authority’s regional medical director of infection control, Dr. Titus Wong, said the coronavirus is one of the easiest to “deactivate” through cleaning.

“This is in contrast to heartier viruses, such as norovirus,” Dr. Wong said, and added norovirus has a "hard shell" on the outside, and is harder to eliminate. “One thing that we know about coronavirus is that it’s an envelope virus, meaning the virus is surrounded by a nice lipid layer, and it needs this for survival.”

Dr. Wong said anything that disrupts the fatty layer or membrane around the virus will inactivate it.

“Either with soaps or alcohols, or any other type of disinfectant, will break through the membrane, essentially punch holes and inactivate it,” Dr. Wong said.

It’s why hand-washing and cleaning high-touch surfaces is considered key in fighting the virus.

Dr. Wong said there is a difference between cleaning and disinfecting. The first step removes dirt and oils that may be on a surface.

"The disinfectant part is the part that we use to deactivate or to kill the virus,” Dr. Wong said, and added it’s important to incorporate both steps thoroughly, as a disinfectant may not be as effective without cleaning.

Once workers with WINMAR Fraser Valley are finished at a COVID-19 cleaning site, Smith said they follow another step-by-step protocol to remove their protective equipment. Suits and gloves are sprayed, and each piece is carefully removed for disposal, while respirators are wiped down, including the batteries.

“We do try to go above and beyond the recommendations,” Smith said.