With help from local fish processor, UniSea, the City of Unalaska opened a quarantine facility in mid-April to house community members and seafood workers who might need a place to isolate and quarantine if they were to fall ill with the coronavirus.
Fortunately, that site hasn't seen much traffic from infected patients. But that facility—and now other buildings throughout the city as well—are being visited regularly, in the middle of the night, by a two-person cleaning crew adorned in hazmat suits and brandishing industrial strength disinfectant.
That crew—made up of owner Bill Carter and employee Patricia Roehl—is part of an Anchorage-based sanitization company known as Ambiental Options. Carter said he started speaking with city officials in April about coming to the island, but he and Roehl have only been disinfecting buildings in Unalaska since July.
"What we do is we come in and basically spray," said Carter. "We have special high volume sprayers that spread disinfectant that is approved by the Environmental Protection Agency and the World Health Organization and Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. And we spray that product, and it sits for a certain amount of time and kills any virus, if there's any virus present."
Late at night, while most of Unalaska is sleeping, Carter and Roehl dawn Tyvek hazmat suits, protective eyewear, and respirators, and disinfect portions of city buildings with a sanitizing product commonly known by its brand name, Shockwave.
"There's several things in [Shockwave]," said Carter. "I can't tell you exactly what the active ingredient is. I think it's a combination of several. And they're words that are about 14 syllables long and I couldn't pronounce them. But the EPA has put together what they call the 'N List.' And the 'N List' is the list that has all the approved products and recommended products [for the coronavirus]."
Carter said he and Roehl originally came to the island to sanitize the city's quarantine facility. But now, because that facility hasn't seen much use, Carter and Roehl were also asked to clean other city buildings. They visit the airport on Wednesday and Saturday nights and clean the Community Center, the Aquatics Center, the Public Library, the Public Works Department, and City Hall throughout the rest of the week. According to Carter, they don't clean the entirety of each building, but focus on the higher-traffic areas of each one.
Carter said the disinfectant has a unique "dwell time," which is the amount of contact time needed for the disinfectant to kill pathogens, like the coronavirus. And he said, for Shockwave, that dwell time is 30 minutes.
"We try to get [the area] coated enough to where [the disinfectant] will stay fluid for thirty minutes," explained Carter. "So we don't want it to dry out instantly, but we also don't want puddles of it."
Carter said it usually takes him and Roehl a couple of hours to prep and then clean each facility, depending on the size. It's been a trial-and-error process, he said, as they learned what works best for each building.
Carter and Roehl are contracted through the city, specifically through the Unalaska Fire Department. Fire Chief Patrick Shipp said he's unsure how long the department plans to employ Ambiental Options to clean city facilities, but he said they provide a unique business, and that they are the only company currently offering this kind of sanitization on the island. Shipp added that he hopes Carter is able to eventually branch out and expand Ambiental's business in Unalaska and contract work through other local companies.
"This is a fairly fluid project because of the fact that nobody really knows what the future holds for the virus," said Carter. "We don't have a definite timeline of when we're going to be done. So I think the city is taking the wise choice of playing it by ear. Of the different areas that we work down in the Lower 48 and in Alaska, the City of Unalaska has done a great job. And they've been forward thinking, and have really gotten out ahead of this [pandemic]."
Carter said he and Roehl are planning to stick around the island for a while longer, and that they will continue to help sanitize the city—and possibly other businesses around town.
So if you happen to be out late at night and see what looks like Dan Aykroyd and the Ghostbusters crew spraying down specters in the local library or Community Center, don't be alarmed. It's just Carter and Roehl, and they're just doing their job.