“A Virus Like Any Other Virus”: Limited Scope Review of State Building Management in Response to COVID-19 by the Central Services Division of the Department of Accounting and General Services
From Hawaii State Auditor, December, 2020 (excerpts)
This limited scope review looks at the measures DAGS has implemented in response to the COVID-19 pandemic….
In our review, we found that the focus of the Central Services Division management is to just “keep the lights on,” which has led to incomplete and inconsistent efforts by the Central Services Division to safely re-open and operate its buildings during the COVID-19 pandemic. The division’s questionable compliance with – and apparent limited awareness of – applicable state and federal guidelines compromises the safety and health of those working in or visiting DAGS-managed buildings….
A 1996 audit of DAGS’ custodial services programs found, among other things, that DAGS’ management was not requiring supervisors to use task lists designed to remind custodians of the nature and frequency of tasks to be performed, to use checklists designed to record the completion of assigned tasks, or to conduct formal inspections designed to document the quality of work to be performed. The audit recommended DAGS adopt a formal cleanliness standard and use task lists, checklists, and inspections, as well as other management tools to ensure custodial tasks were completed.5 The audit also recommended DAGS develop formalized training, instead of relying on informal, on-the-job training.
A follow-up report in 2004 found DAGS still did not see the importance of using management controls, including the frequent use of checklists and inspection forms; was still heavily reliant on informal, on-the job training; and had yet to establish procedures to address situations potentially hazardous or dangerous to its custodial staff or others.6
In our limited scope review, we found little has changed. When we asked to see a copy of a current task list for custodians, the Administrator, who has held the position for the past four years, candidly told us he had not seen the task list before we asked for it. Although he did not know when the task list was first created, he did confirm it was not updated after a reduction in force around 10 years ago.
The Comptroller was unsure if custodial staff on the neighbor islands used the task list. The Comptroller admitted DAGS’ operations in this area have been “informal and inconsistent.” This self-characterization of department practices is consistent with what we first reported almost 25 years ago in our 1996 audit. A 25-year lack of progress is unacceptable for a state agency responsible for the upkeep of state buildings….
“A virus like any other virus” – DAGS’ approach to safe practices is loosely coordinated and communicated…
One example stands out. The guidance jointly issued by the CDC and the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) titled Reopening Guidance for Cleaning and Disinfecting Public Spaces, Workplaces, Businesses, Schools, and Homes states that its guidance is part of “the larger United States Government plan” relating to “[r]eopening the country.” According to the Reopening Guidance, “EPA-approved disinfectants are an important part of reducing the risk of exposure to COVID-19.” Therefore, the guidance is to “disinfect using an EPA-approved disinfectant.” EPA has compiled a list of disinfectant products that have been shown to be effective against viruses like the one that causes COVID-19.8 Information about EPA-approved surface disinfectants is made available on what is called “List N.”
We asked DAGS for any internal emails, policies and procedures, or other written communications from January 2020 through June which (a) mention or specify disinfectants that are effective against the novel coronavirus, SARS-CoV-2,9 or (b) mention the list of disinfectants approved by EPA as effective against SARS viruses (i.e., List N). DAGS responded that it had no such documents.
We asked the Administrator whether his division had re-evaluated the disinfectants it was currently using in light of COVID-19. He responded that they looked at the products and made sure they complied with CDC guidance. When we requested a written record of that re-evaluation, he stated that “we didn’t document us checking, just took a look at the items they’re using.” Asked whether the re-evaluation of disinfectants that the division normally uses included making sure the disinfectants were approved by EPA as effective against COVID, the Administrator responded, “I don’t think so. We were just depending on the CDC’s guidance.”
We note that the CDC’s Reopening Guidance emphasizes the recommended use of “EPA-approved disinfectants” three separate times; each time the Reopening Guidance mentions “EPA-approved disinfectants,” it hyperlinks the phrase to the EPA’s website for List N. The Administrator was not familiar with List N….
… he later admitted having only “skimmed through” the Ninth Supplementary Proclamation, which was then in effect. When asked who at DAGS was responsible for staying abreast of the various guidance documents regarding COVID-19, the Comptroller replied, “That’s a good question.” … he also admitted that the responsibility for reading, understanding, and implementing the emergency proclamations was “ad hoc” and that he had not thought to assign that role to a particular person….
DAGS cannot assure us that it is capable of fully and consistently implementing enhanced cleaning Issued on April 16, 2020, the Fifth Supplementary Proclamation Related to COVID-19 required that essential businesses and operations regularly disinfect high-touch surfaces. Subsequent proclamations continued the requirement. However, it is difficult to conclude that DAGS and its Central Services Division have fully complied with this requirement.
According to the Administrator, the way the division’s custodians clean has not changed much during the pandemic, but the frequency of their cleaning has. And additional training is not required because, he explained, “COVID-19 is a virus like any other virus.”10 …
Entrance warning signs are incomplete and outdated Effective April 17, 2020, signs must be posted at the building entrances to all essential businesses and operations. Under the Governor’s proclamations, the signs must inform those entering the building that they should wear a face covering while in the facility, avoid entering “if they have a cough or fever or otherwise do not feel well,” and should maintain a six-foot distance from others. DAGS’ building managers are responsible for posting signs at building entrances. DAGS’ own COVID-19 workplace guidelines provide that signs be posted at facility entrances and include the appropriate language about coughing. Inexplicably, the DAGS’ entrance sign (largely templated on the Hawai‘i DOD entrance sign) omits arguably the most important warning language: “Do not enter if you have a fever, cough, or other respiratory symptoms.”…
In a May 29, 2020, email to building managers the Comptroller wrote: “For DAGS-managed facilities, we need to procure and install hand sanitizers at the entrance of the building.” However, according to both the Comptroller and the Administrator, they neither budgeted for nor had additional funding to purchase hand sanitizer for the common areas of DAGS-managed buildings. The Administrator explained that the Central Services Division had submitted multiple funding requests to the Hawai‘i Emergency Management Agency (HiEMA) and expected to receive 400 hand sanitizer dispensers by mid-September. …
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