The coronavirus pandemic swept into Canada in early 2020 with a ferocity that brought the country to a grinding halt. With many individuals out of work and hope of a return to normalcy quickly diminishing, hockey fans across the country rejoiced with news that the National Hockey League (NHL) would resume play, and a Stanley Cup champion would be awarded. And all this in an NHL bubble on Canadian soil.
Thanks to an effective plan unrolled by the NHL, and the expertise of the team at Scandinavian Building Services to bring this plan to fruition, hockey within the Edmonton, AB, NHL bubble was set for success.
“The NHL created a world-class standard and wanted a world-class facility, and that’s what they had with Rogers Place,” said Scandinavian President and CEO, Russell Hay. “It wasn’t just about the look and feel of the centre, but cleanliness was obviously one of the major points. We were certainly prepared to rise to the challenge and ensure that world-class standards were not only met, but surpassed.”
Experience in the field
The cleaning and sanitization of sports and entertainment complexes wasn’t anything new for Scandinavian. In fact, after Hay’s father, Terry, purchased the company in 1982, he won the bid to clean Edmonton’s Northlands Coliseum, a complex he serviced for 20 years.
“Over the past 30 years, we took that 20-year experience from Northlands Coliseum and developed our proprietary quality assurance program,” Hay said. “That’s how we were selected by Rogers Place. They knew we were an Edmonton-based company with extensive experience in similar facilities across the country, and they were passionate about revitalizing downtown Edmonton. We were behind that re-vitalization 100 per cent, so there was a great synergy there.”
But it wasn’t just Rogers Place that Scandinavian was responsible for. In fact, the bubble comprised of not only the arena but the neighbouring hotels and outside recreational facilities as well.
“The bubble encompassed a three-block radius around Rogers Place, and included three hotels and a large plaza area where players and support staff could lounge and relax on their off-time,” said Scandinavian Northern Alberta Regional Director, Dino Dinicola. “These three blocks were cordoned off to the public and were patrolled by 24-hour security.”
In addition to Rogers Place arena and the surrounding area, Scandinavian was also responsible for the nearby Terwillegar Community Recreation Centre, which provided a practice facility for the teams housed in the bubble. Although it was 20 minutes away from the downtown venue, the Terwillegar complex was treated as its own separate bubble.
A phased approach
According to Scandinavian Operations Manager, Alex Aguilar, there were four phases of the NHL protocol to successfully unroll the 2020 playoff schedule. “There were strict rules developed by the NHL, and we had to develop our protocols to be in line with theirs,” Aguilar said.
The first phase was to develop an understanding of the requirements and adapt them to company protocols. The second phase was the introduction of the players, support staff, technicians, and Scandinavian’s cleaning team into the bubble. Phase three was when the players started utilizing the facilities and consisted of strict protocols that had to be followed. The final phase occurred when the play-offs actually began.
“Phase four saw games and practices occurring daily,” said Dinicola. “There were a lot of moving parts as far as people moving from space to space, as well as all the activity that was happening day-to-day.”
With the responsibility of cleaning a world-class facility, Scandinavian was well prepared and selected a world-class cleaning crew well before the start of phase one. The credentials of each staff member were provided to the NHL, and it was only those team members who were allowed entry once play resumed.
“When we realized the bubble was coming to Edmonton and we were going to be cleaning it, we took the pandemic cleaning protocols we had already established and adapted them to the NHL’s requirements,” Hay explained. “We then trained not only our professional cleaners who were directly involved within the bubble but the entire Scandinavian team across the country. We have 6000+ staff, and it was all hands on deck.”
Not only was training provided in person, with participants wearing masks and practicing social distancing, but the company also provided extensive online video training and video conference calls to prepare and educate the entire team.
Caution and care
The Scandinavian crew within the main bubble comprised of 20 cleaners during the day and 50 at night. The Terwillegar site was a smaller venue and comprised of four cleaners during the day and 10 at night. Although the team of 84 was not mandated to remain on-site at all times, there were strict rules which had to be followed, including not being able to work at any other site outside of the bubble.
Additionally, in an effort to protect against potential contamination, all-day team members – due to their proximity to the players and support staff – were required to undergo daily testing, while the night crew were tested on alternate days.
When it came to the physical cleaning of the facilities, the Scandinavian team was prepared to tackle the monumental task at hand. According to Dinicola, at one point, there were 12 NHL teams (and approximately 700 people) within the bubble, as well as five active practice rinks in operation, so time management became a critical priority.
According to Aguilar, once a team vacated a dressing room, the day crew were given 20 minutes to go in and manually clean the dressing rooms, offices, and bathrooms before the next team was scheduled to arrive. Day cleaning consisted of manually sanitizing all areas and high-touch points, while the deep cleaning and disinfection processes were conducted during the night.
Products and protocols
When it came to products and equipment, Scandinavian opted for Oxivir TB for manual disinfection procedures, and Oxivir Plus for electrostatic fogging using Victory backpack sprayers. Additionally, the company also utilized the Clorox 360 system of chemicals and sprayers. All of the systems utilized had to be in-line with NHL protocols.
“The equipment and chemicals we utilized weren’t used every day, and trying to get Oxivir TB during COVID-19 was no easy feat. Clorox 360 products were also difficult to procure,” Hay said. “Fortunately, we were very pro-active from the start, and ordered electrostatic sprayers for use across the country, not to mention a stockpile of 50-gallon drums of Oxivir. We were able to work with our suppliers and manufacturers and obtain enough stock to last the entire length of the bubble.”
Manufactured by Diversey, Oxivir TB was the disinfectant of choice because of its exceptional one-minute dwell/kill time, which is currently the industry’s top standard. In conjunction with a microfibre system, this Oxivir TB was used to disinfect all high-touch areas and surfaces. The Clorox 360 electrostatic sprayers provided further deep cleaning and disinfection to all surfaces.
“When you only have 20 minutes to clean, you’ve got to get in and out very quickly,” Hay said. “You can electrostatic spray everything, but you also have to make sure you’re cleaning all the toilets and sinks. The beauty of the electrostatic spray is that it doesn’t leave a residue so everything in the dressing room could be sprayed. Obviously, when we sprayed the mirrors, we would have to go back and ensure they were spot-free. Together, these two processes allowed us to effectively ensure that everything was clean and disinfected for the next team coming in.”
When it came to challenges during the bubble experience, Hay said there were many. “I didn’t understand the definition of “pivot” but now I do, and I can really appreciate the word itself,” he said. “It wasn’t just with Rogers Place, but things were changing so rapidly every day.
In addition to keeping up with the protocols, there was the matter of optics. People wanted to see high-touch points being disinfected and surfaces being sprayed with the electro-static system.” According to Dinicola, “with the NHL really taking their time to properly plan the entire process, what we witnessed as a cleaning company – and being responsible for the actual cleaning of these facilities – was that the NHL protocols, along with the procedures Scandinavian had previously developed, really helped keep COVID-19 out of that bubble.”
“Things were changing by the minute at Rogers Place, and we had to adapt very quickly,” he said. “Everyone collaborating, and coming together and following protocol to a tee ensured that everyone within that bubble remained safe.”
And safe the bubble was. In fact, at no time during the entire NHL playoff series was there a confirmed case of COVID-19. That speaks volumes but it also brightens the spotlight placed on the professional cleaning industry as a whole.
“The janitorial industry has never really been recognized,” Hay said. “In the past, it’s always been a no news is good news type of business. But, through this entire COVID-19 experience, I know it meant so much to the industry and all of our frontline workers when the Prime Minister thanked them on national television. That’s probably the first time custodial staff have been recognized and applauded by a country leader, and it meant so much. There is a lot of hard work that goes into cleaning day in and day out, seven days a week, so it was so nice to see that hard work finally being appreciated.”
When it came to ensuring the safety of the players and staff within the Edmonton bubble, the Scandinavian team was confident in its ability to tackle this memorable task. “We are an incredibly blessed company with our incredible cleaners,” Hay said. “They are our everything, and they keep our company going. Every one of them was so proud of their efforts to protect Canadians. We provided them with the tools and education to be safe, and they confidently went to work each and every day, and put those skills to action.”
When the Tampa Bay Lightning won the NHL Finals on September 28 and were awarded the 2020 Stanley Cup, not only did the Canadian public celebrate the return of sport, but the team at Scandinavian also celebrated their outstanding success. “Throughout this entire process, it was always service with a smile,” Hay said. “I know all of our valued cleaning staff will remember this experience for the rest of their lives.”
Tanja Nowotny is Director of Marketing and Communications for ISSA Canada. This article was originally published in ISSA Canada’s Contractor’s Corner.