Tools

Even if you’re staying at home to help slow the spread of COVID-19 and keeping your distance from people, what happens when the sink breaks? For those doing repairs throughout Lancaster County, each new project has its own dangers.

Lisa Johnson’s kitchen remodel was well underway by the time COVID-19 disruptions blocked the final pieces from showing up on time.

As a nurse practitioner who is head of Pennsylvania College of Health Sciences’ nurse practitioner program, she was keeping track of the coronavirus. She was also concerned about what’s unknown.

She and her family hunkered down, staying socially distant to stay safe. When the missing pieces arrived, they weighed the risk of opening their safe space to finish the project.

After more than a month, the Johnsons gave the OK to finish the kitchen. They stayed on a different floor during the work and when the crew left, the area was cleaned thoroughly.

Even if you’re staying at home to help slow the spread of COVID-19 and keeping your distance from people, what happens when the sink breaks? For those doing repairs throughout Lancaster County, each new project has its own dangers.

Here are tips for safely navigating home repairs during a pandemic.

Is this repair necessary?

For some emergency repairs, waiting until COVID-19 is gone is not an option.

Others may be able to wait.

The Johnsons were midway through their kitchen remodel when the project was paused because of the missing materials. The family had a functional but unfinished kitchen. After the final pieces came in the Johnsons waited before deciding to finish the renovation.

“My concern was not knowing exactly how transmission occurs. We certainly know that it’s a respiratory droplet transmission. But disease transmission via infectious aerosols is currently unknown,” Johnson says. “Even with it just being known the respiratory droplet transmission, I certainly didn’t want individuals in my home who could potentially transmit a virus.”

She also wanted to protect the workers coming to her home because some COVID-19 carriers are asymptomatic.

After weeks of no contact with others, aside from trips to the grocery store, the Johnsons decided to finish the project.

“We felt fairly confident that we wouldn’t get anyone sick,” Johnson says.

The family had a rapport with the two people doing the work. They also considered the financial obligation to finish the project and the factored trust into the decision.

“We’re largely strangers to each other and we have to trust each other,” Johnson says. “And always keeping in mind that 25% of people are going to be asymptomatic and carriers. That’s concerning.”

Each circumstance will be different when weighing the risk and necessity.

Ask questions

Once you decide a repair or replacement is something that’s needed, ask companies how they’re making sure employees are healthy, says Andrea Wolf, associate professor at Pennsylvania College of Health Sciences and coordinator of the family nurse practitioner track.

“Are they screening their workers?” she says.

The health questions are important for customers as well for the safety of employees. Staff at Brubaker Inc. on Rohrerstown Road check twice with customers about their heath, including whether they have COVID-19 or have been in contact with anyone who has tested positive, says Jerry Brubaker, vice president. That has not happened as staff continue to replace water heaters and refrigerators and repair heating systems.

“If it’s in their house, we will not be going there,” he says. “That’s a safety factor for our technicians.”

Protective equipment

Ask companies what type of protective equipment they’re giving employees and what rules they have to stay safe in homes.

Masks are important for workers, especially when they are indoors, Wolf says.

Technicians with Brubaker pause before they enter a home to put on masks, gloves and booties.

“With the masks it’s a bit more impersonal unfortunately because you can’t speak to the customer and see their face and their reaction and take cues from them,” Brubaker says. “It’s what we need to do today.”

Don't get too close

The Centers for Disease Control recommends staying at least 6 feet from others to limit the spread of COVID-19. Plenty of customers of Brubaker have keep their distance.

“Then we have some who you’re working and they’re right over your shoulder,” Brubaker says. “We prefer for them to stay back and stay away.”

The finish work in the Johnsons’ kitchen was consolidated into one day. Lisa Johnson was the single contact person. Her husband and daughter stayed upstairs. They took extra measures by turning off the heating and air conditioning system and agreeing on the final details of the remodel beforehand.

On the work day, Johnson checked in with them once, with everyone wearing masks.

“I stood in a different room. They could show me a couple of items from about 20 feet away,” she says. “I basically verified, ‘That’s great. Thank you very much.’ ”

Another option would be to talk over the phone, even if everyone is in the same building.

Brubaker employees have taken photos of problems and sent them to the customer. When that’s not possible, they’ve left the device on a paper towel and then walked away to maintain distance, Brubaker says.

Pay over the phone or leave a check behind to minimize contact.

Clean

After the work is finished, clean the area with cleaning supplies recommended by the CDC.

Before the work starts, remove larger items like rugs that are difficult to clean as well as small items or clutter to make it easy to clean everything in the area, Johnson says.

She also cleaned the bathroom and floors in the area of the construction and then waited a day to cook.

The project was a long time coming, but it was well worth it, she says.