Basics of COVID-19 Prevention

Last updated on 04/12/2020

In alignment with Centers for Disease Control (CDC) and public health recommendations, the Healthy Buildings Team at Harvard has prepared guidelines to aid in the prevention of COVID-19 through basics of COVID-19 prevention, cleaning and disinfecting of electronics, and building control and operation. In addition to these general preventative best practices, we provide specific recommendations to reduce COVID-19 spread in food establishmentschildcare, and public transportation facilities. 

This guidance is not intended to replace policy or direction specific to your local government or institution.

If managed poorly, buildings can play a role in spreading the disease. Following enhanced cleaning and disinfecting procedures in our homes, offices, and schools during the current public health situation can help prevent the spread of viruses, including COVID-19. Focus on highly used areas and high-touch items, such as communal rooms, public restrooms, exercise equipment, handrails, tables, faucets, doorknobs, shared toys, and shared keyboards. 

We Recommend the Following General Guidelines

Use of disinfectants 

  • Use one of the cleaning agents on this list of EPA-approved disinfectants.
  • Always follow label instructions.
  • Immediately clean and disinfect surfaces and objects that are visibly soiled and/or after a known exposure to a coughing/sneezing person.
  • If a surface or object has been soiled with blood or other bodily fluids, use gloves and other standard precautions. Remove the spill, and then clean and disinfect the surface.
  • Store chemicals in labeled, closed containers. Keep them in a secure area away from children and food. Store them in a manner that prevents tipping or spilling.

You can help promote safe and healthy buildings

  • Stay home if you feel sick.
  • Cover your mouth and nose with a tissue (or your elbow if you do not have a tissue), when you cough or sneeze, and immediately dispose of the tissue.
  • Wear a cloth facemask* to prevent exposure to others when in public spaces. Take care not to touch the mask while wearing it. Reusable cloth facemasks must be laundered after each use.
  • Avoid touching your eyes, nose or mouth.
  • Follow local and national guidance on holding community events and gatherings and abide by the recommended number of attendees.
  • After cleaning (and always!), practice good hand hygiene:
    • Wash hands often with soap and warm water for at least 20 seconds.
    • If soap and warm water are not readily available, use an alcohol-based hand sanitizer that contains at least 60% alcohol.

Safety Measures 

How to protect yourself while cleaning and disinfecting

  • Wear disposable gloves. Gloves should be discarded after each use. Clean hands immediately after gloves are removed.
  • Wear eye protection when there is a potential for splash or mist to the face.
  • Wear a cloth facemask* to provide protection against chemical disinfectants and prevent exposure to others when coughing or sneezing. 
  • Gowns or aprons are recommended to protect personal clothing.
  • Gloves, gowns, eye protection, and other personal protective equipment should be removed carefully to avoid contamination.
  • Clean hands with soap and water after removing protective equipment.

Proper use of personal protective equipment

  • Follow the manufacturer’s instructions for safe and effective use of all cleaning products. Keep in mind that some products require good ventilation and personal protective equipment during the use.
  • Apply and remove protective equipment safely using proper procedures.
  • Discard damaged disposable gloves immediately. Regularly inspect all protective equipment for damage and replace as needed.
  • Custodial crews should immediately report breaches in personal protective equipment (e.g., tear in gloves) or any potential exposures to their supervisor.
  • Reusable protective equipment should be properly laundered or cleaned and disinfected after removal, and stored in a sanitary location.

Cleaning & Disinfecting

  • Clean surfaces first. If surfaces are dirty to sight or touch, they should be cleaned using a detergent or soap and water prior to disinfection.
  • Follow these disinfection tips:
    • Products with EPA-approved emerging viral pathogens claims are expected to be effective against COVID-19 based on data for harder-to-kill viruses. This is a list of products with EPA-approved emerging viral pathogens claims.
    • Follow the manufacturer’s instructions for all cleaning and disinfection products (e.g., dilution concentration, expiration date, application method and contact time, ventilation, and use of personal protective equipment).

Disinfection of hard, non-porous surfaces

  • High-touch points (e.g., doors, elevator buttons, light switches) should be cleaned and disinfected between each contact with a different individual, or frequently throughout the day.
  • Other non-porous surfaces (e.g., floors, walls, countertops) can be cleaned and disinfected daily or as needed depending on building use.
  • The following products are effective for disinfection of hard, non-porous surfaces:
    • A diluted bleach solution, an alcohol solution with at least 70% alcohol, and most common EPA-registered disinfectants.
    • Prepare a diluted bleach solution by mixing:
      • Five tablespoons (1/3 cup) of bleach per gallon of water
      • After application, allow at least one minute of contact time before wiping, or air dry (without wiping)

Disinfection of soft, porous surfaces

  • Soft, porous surfaces, such as carpeted floor, rugs, and drapes can be cleaned daily or as needed depending on use:
    • Remove visible contamination (if present) and use a product with an EPA-approved emerging viral pathogens cleaner that is suitable for porous surfaces.
    • After cleaning and if the item can be laundered, launder items using the hottest appropriate water setting.
    • When washing laundry, avoid shaking dirty laundry to minimize the possibility of dispersing the virus in the air. Clean and disinfect hampers containing dirty laundry. Clean hands immediately after handling dirty laundry. 

*Additional considerations for facemasks during COVID-19:

  • Respirators such as N95 masks should be prioritized for healthcare providers and are not recommended for general preventative cleaning and disinfection.
  • Homemade and fabric masks should not be considered reliable protection but may provide some added benefits.
  • Homemade and fabric masks may not be appropriate for specific hazards in your workplace. 
  • Mask should be discarded if soiled, damaged, or hard to breathe through.
  • Do not eat, drink, or smoke while wearing a facemask.

For further information about building cleaning and disinfection measures, refer to the following resources:

Cleaning & disinfection for US Households with confirmed or suspected COVID-19, CDC
Cleaning & disinfecting your home, CDC

Sequence for putting on and removing PPE, CDC

Use cloth face coverings to slow the spread of COVID-19, CDC

FAQs for event organizers, CDC


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