Early in the pandemic, a nursing home operations director told Patricia Howell his entire laundry staff quit at once out of fear that they could be infected by linens contaminated by sick residents. 

At another facility, laundry staff are continuously stressed not about COVID-19 fears, but by all of the constant linen turnarounds their caregivers demand, said Howell, the clinical support manager for McKesson Medical-Surgical Extended Care.

Laundries are arguably one of the cleanest places in the building, but remain one of the more challenging places to keep clean and germ-free — whether it’s air, water, fabrics or surfaces. 

It doesn’t help that many facilities are curtailing “non-essential” foot traffic like equipment service technicians, observed Bill Brooks, director of customer solutions and business development for the on-premises laundry segment of Alliance Laundry Systems LLC. 

The riskiest time in laundry is when contaminated linens are present, said Jessica Green, Ph.D., CEO and co-founder of Phylagen, an environmental genetics company.

Textiles contaminated with SARS-CoV-2 are a plausible transmission risk to workers because the movement of contaminated laundry can re-aerosolize and resuspend infectious particles and can remain infectious for up to 28 days.

Still, COVID-19 is one the easier pathogens to keep at bay, unlike Clostridium difficile, which can form spores that can survive some industrial disinfection practices. The CDC recommends segregating potentially contaminated laundry, limiting shaking and laundering items at the warmest possible temperature. 

Green believes what’s most important about laundry environments during the pandemic may not be the laundries themselves, but the spaces they occupy.

“Indoor environments, poorly ventilated areas, high-use or high-traffic spaces, and rooms with a continuous introduction of SARS-CoV-2 have been identified as the types of areas of highest transmission rates,” she added.

In the end, experts urge strict adherence to established best practices, and as some advocates say, possibly revisiting off-premise laundry providers.