Sanitation Needs Will Outlive the Pandemic

Sanitation Needs Will Outlive the Pandemic
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Few events in our lifetimes have been as damaging as COVID-19. Too many families have suffered. Too many people have died. Even after a vaccine is approved, full recovery will take months.


But some lingering impacts are beneficial. Millions of people have rediscovered the beauty of nature and the comforts of home. Remote work and schooling have become useful options. And individuals have been reminded how important good hygiene is to their daily lives. The latter is a lesson that will not fade with the virus.


Indeed, the pandemic has placed an increased focus on the value of regular cleaning of public spaces and federal research into chemicals that can kill the coronavirus on surfaces. The Environmental Protection Agency’s List N has become the world’s leading guide to disinfectants that are effective against the virus.


List N will get plenty of use in the years to come. The last nine months have made cleaner habits a permanent state-of-affairs. People will continue to wash their hands more often and exercise extra care amid large, indoor crowds. They also will disinfect diligently the places they visit whether COVID-19 is a problem or not.


Procter & Gamble says the pandemic has increased consumers’ focus on home cleaning and personal hygiene. Laxman Narasimhan, the CEO of Reckitt Benckiser Group, the maker of Lysol, told CNBC that he expects demand to continue at a high level even when the pandemic is under control. He also noted that a similar trend for increased consumption of disinfectants occurred after the outbreaks of SARS and MERS in recent years.


Clorox CEO Linda Rendle agrees. She said the company “will continue to have a significant role supporting public health, given the ongoing needs and challenging behaviors of their consumers and communities.”


To be sure, advice about how to kill COVID-19 on surfaces has whipsawed in recent months. Initially, scientists recommended that packages from outside the home be sanitized before being opened and brought inside. Lately, however, researchers have said that people are at low risk of getting sick from, say, grocery-store deliveries.


At the same time, a recent study from Australia showed that the virus that causes COVID-19 can survive on glass, banknotes, and stainless steel for up to 28 days at room temperature. That’s a lot longer than researchers first believed. Regardless of where the science leads us, consumers and workers will need to diligently clean and disinfect their homes and workplaces.


Airlines, restaurants, schools, and offices will continue sanitizing their spaces more thoroughly and more often than before the pandemic. Factories will retain at least some of their stringent, cleaning protocols to protect and reassure employees.


No one thinks that demand for disinfectants will continue to run five times higher than usual as Clorox reported for its wipes over the summer. Their products and similar disinfectants by other manufacturers were considered so vital to the nation’s health that their workers were declared essential by the U.S. Department of Homeland Security.


But demand won’t fall back to old levels, either. The makers of trusted, well-known cleaning brands are preparing to keep their supply lines running at higher rates than prior to the pandemic. Most factories continue to operate 24 hours a day, seven days a week to keep up.  


These companies have also learned how to keep their supply chains open and their distribution channels full. They don’t want — and are working hard to avoid — a repeat of situations at the height of the pandemic when their products disappeared from store shelves almost the moment they were put on display.


The new normal, even after the pandemic, will include more cleaning of public spaces. That’s a healthy development that the cleaning and disinfectant industry is ready to support.


Steve Caldeira is the president and CEO of the Household & Commercial Products Association.

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