With a proud history of producing professional athletes like Peyton Manning and Justin Gatlin, the University of Tennessee (UT) strives for excellence both on and off the field. That same code of excellence extends to their high standards of cleanliness, not only within the dorms and academic buildings, but also within their athletic training and performance facilities. We spoke with Gordon Nelson Jr., Director of Facilities Services at the UT Knoxville, about how his team helps keep UT athletes at the top of their game through upholding cleaning and disinfection protocols.
A Track Record of Cleanliness
Gordon has been working within the Facilities Services team at various schools and universities since 1977, joining UT in 2011. Upon his arrival in Knoxville, Gordon made it his mission to support UT’s academic and athletic programs through his work within the Facilities Services team. Gordon and his team pair manual cleaning and disinfecting with the Clorox® Total 360® System to treat a variety of areas, from classrooms and stairwells to training spaces and locker rooms, to keep students and athletes healthy. In fact, Gordon has even connected with CloroxPro’s Research and Development Team to ensure that the Clorox® Total 360® System could be used to disinfect several non-traditional items – like football helmets. “In my opinion, our CloroxPro products are our best secret weapon in keeping our players healthy off the field so they’re ready for whatever challenges they face on the field,” said Gordon.
Pathogens vs. Athletic Facilities: A Common Rivalry
Since athletic facilities are high-touch, high traffic spaces, it is fairly common for pathogens to quickly spread in these environments. In fact, contact sport athletes that use these spaces are 10-15 times more likely to contract Methicillin-resistant Staphylococcus aureus (MRSA) than the general population1,and up to 31% of college athletes are colonized with this pathogen2. These facts show how important cleaning and disinfection of athletic facilities is to prevent the spread of germs that can cause illness.
COVID-19: The Unexpected Opponent
The COVID-19 pandemic caused a shift in the perception of the importance of the role Gordon and his team plays across the campus. While COVID-19 is not primarily spread via surfaces, the COVID-19 pandemic elevated awareness of the importance of cleaning and disinfecting to prevent the spread of germs that can cause illness across the campus. “From preparing the dorms for students this fall to disinfecting our sporting arenas after our spring sports games, we’re remaining diligent to make sure all areas are cleaned and disinfected properly to help prevent the spread of germs that can cause illness. In fact, throughout the COVID-19 pandemic, all 60 of our Facilities Services staff members have shared they feel more comfortable on our campus than anywhere else – even in their own homes.”
Coaching the Next Generation
One of the ways that UT’s disinfection protocols are set apart from other institutions is their third-party certification program with the International Sanitary Supply Association (ISSA). This 22-week training program has been a staple of the UT Facilities Services team for over eight years, addressing all areas of care including newer disinfection protocols, such as proper usage of the Clorox® Total 360® System. The program is available to staff members with varying levels of familiarity with the English language, and translators are available to ensure that the material is easily accessible for all.
In fact, Gordon shared that training his staff has been his number one priority and the most helpful way to maintain his athletic training facilities. “By training our staff about the differences between cleaning, disinfecting and sanitizing a space, we’ve been able to maximize our efforts and maintain a cleaner and safer environment across all of our facilities.”
The Disinfection Playbook
Gordon’s top piece of advice for other athletic training facility managers is to dig deep into the day-to-day disinfection protocols that are currently being implemented in the space. “When COVID-19 hit, I found that many university staff members weren’t even aware of our standard pre-pandemic cleaning and disinfecting protocols. Before any additional supplies were purchased, we gathered together and mapped out how our facilities were currently being cleaned. With this information in mind, we were able to determine which spaces needed additional disinfection and consulted with our experts on purchasing the right products for the right space.”
Once the spaces and products were accounted for, Gordon set to work training his staff on the latest CDC disinfection guidance – as well as proper use of different disinfection devices like the Clorox® Total 360® System. He set up a schedule to inspect a space, assign someone to attend to the space’s disinfection needs, then reinspect for any additional cleaning. Protocols and successfully cleaned spaces were recorded through the university’s online management portal – which is accessible to the entire Facilities Services team, as well as many staff members. This way, teachers and other staffers could see which areas had already been disinfected and which ones were still awaiting attention. Although these changes to UT’s cleaning and disinfection protocols were prompted by the COVID-19 pandemic, Gordon and his staff plan to continue updating their protocols on an ongoing basis. Gordon noted, while they were able to address the day-to-day effects of pathogens in athletic facilities pre-pandemic, this revamp will help them to get ahead of the next outbreak and upcoming cold and flu season.
Looking Ahead to Next Season
With states and universities reopening, Gordon and his team feel prepared to welcome students and community members back to campus. On May 14, UT held its first full-occupancy baseball game against Arkansas at Lindsey Nelson Stadium in Knoxville. The university’s 21,678 seat basketball arena and 102,455 seat football stadium are also planning to open over the summer for athletic practices and events – gearing up for the September 7 return to full capacity. Gordon and his team are ready to tackle the upcoming season with their Clorox® Total 360® System and smarter approach to cleaning and disinfecting protocols.