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Interview: Safe Practices for Social Reintegration

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We have started a series on how to deal with the stress related to the COVID-19 pandemic. This pandemic is unprecedented and hit us with a collective state of shock. We’ve been trying to navigate through this “new normal” where our routines have been flipped on their heads. How do we cope with this? How do we stay connected with people while self-quarantining?

Today we’ll be talking with TJ from TNT Plant Services about ways you can prepare yourself to reintegrate into society. We’ll also be talking about practical tips for ways to properly clean your home and your business. Before we get into that, I want to learn a little bit about TJ’s background.

Mike: You are a native Detroiter, is that correct?

TJ: Yes sir, born and raised. I went to school in Wayne State, and operate a couple of different small business within Detroit.

Mike: What do you do with your business?

TJ: TNT Plant Services is a food safety compliance company. What that means is our employees, along with myself, have a skillset where we can go into a food production facility, and we’re a special type of auditor. We point out non-compliance issues and safety concerns, and then we supply the corrective actions and solutions to eliminate those threats.

Mike: How did you get into this line of work?

TJ: Through a different business that we had, we had come across a handful of clients that we visited often and noticed that there was an absolute need for the practical service that we were trying to design. In 2007 we introduced that service, and ever since, we have continually made efforts to better our practice, sharpen our pencils, get better tooling, better products – continual effort on improving the food safety conditions for our clients. It’s been really nice, it’s a really dynamic skillset and it’s continually changing which keeps it very interesting.

Mike: How did you parlay that into working within the COVID-19 pandemic?

TJ: TNT Plant Services focuses, basically, on food safety. Last year, we were expanding our service package, and we wanted to address flu season for small businesses and institutions that heavily get impacted year after year. So we started doing our homework. We took appointments, we met with consultants, we developed a skillset to where we could provide that service. We planned on launching that service this year, and coincidentally, COVID struck. We just happened to be sitting in a prime position to already have the tooling, already have the consulting for the chemicals we needed – we were one step ahead of everyone on that. Once our current clients asked us to help them with a disinfecting service, we decided it would be in the best interest of everyone around if we could just provide that to the public. Any one who needs our help can just give us a call, we can talk it through, and we can make sure Detroit stays as safe as we can get it and people can stay in business.

Mike: You guys really did your homework here. It sounds like it was a very comprehensive approach where you talked to people in the community to find out what their needs were. What were some of your biggest “aha” moments as you talked to people?

TJ: The biggest kind of “aha” moment was just having a service that people could rely upon that wasn’t just hearsay or a science experiment. When we offered the service, it was very important to us that we know exactly what we are capable of and what we can’t do. We want to eliminate that uncertainty from the business owners that need our help, and I think that being able to give a concrete answer, “yes, we can do this,” that was probably the best thing that we were able to do for the people that called upon us.

Mike: I think that is so important, helping eliminate that fear and uncertainty in business owners, because we are entering a new realm here that people are unfamiliar with. I think you guys fill an important void there. Walk us through that process - when you came out to our facility in downtown Royal Oak, what was your process after you walked through the door?

TJ: Doing a service for you is very similar to the services that we offer in the food industry. You go to the site, and you’re doing a walkthrough and a very thorough assessment. What we’re going to do is look at the environment and try to analyze how the public is going to use your facility, and the staff as well. So, we have to go in there and investigate. We’re going to want to look at how rooms are set up, what is in the rooms, what are the surfaces, what materials are used, what does your furniture look like – as much detail as you can possibly get. When we make our recommendations to you, we need to be confident that it’s going to work. We also want to give you the peace of mind that we’re doing our due diligence to make sure that you’re safe and you’re getting what you’re asking for from us.

Mike: You guys are the real deal here. I think it’s important to emphasize that businesses that are reopening here need to be responsible. As the public comes back out to stores, whether it be a retail store, a counseling business, a restaurant, etc., they have a certain public trust in businesses. Businesses really need to step up to the plate and be responsible. What we’ve done is we’ve tried to pull all the stops in terms of trying to make sure people are safe. That includes following the CDC guidelines of wearing masks, maintaining our 6 feet of social distancing, offering hand sanitizer and those types of things. What you guys offer here is really a peace of mind, knowing that a business has been properly disinfected. There is a difference between disinfecting and sanitizing – what is the difference between the two?

TJ: To understand the distinction between sanitizing practices and disinfecting, take one step back and look at the definitions of those. The first level of any of that is going to be cleaning. In order to do either a disinfecting or a sanitizing effectively, the surfaces need to be cleaned. When we’re doing cleaning, we’re basically removing soils and organic matter. Once you get there, you can start incorporating the sanitizing practices. Sanitizers are going to be what you can get at big box stores, hardware stores, all the products that are readily available to the public. They do a really good job at reducing bacteria and viruses. They’re also usually fragrant, they’re nice to smell, so they’re nice household products. But, it’s absolutely not the same as a disinfectant. The disinfectant is going to be a more professional-strength product. There is dilution required, there are safety concerns to be considered, and you absolutely should make sure you’re doing a thorough job at understanding your products. Disinfectant, unlike a sanitizer, is going to eliminate bacteria and viruses, but there is a different level of responsibility required in used that produ ct. So how do you know the difference? You need to look for products that are designated by the CDC. The CDC has a specific list of disinfectants that will eliminate the COVID virus. There are a bunch and they continually evolve. Cross-reference that list. Don’t just look at a label and see that it says “99% effective against viruses.” That in no way is going to guarantee that it can combat against COVID-19. So if you’re the person responsible for disinfecting, make sure that you do your due diligence, read through the list, and make sure you have the right thing.

Mike: So, for people at home, the important takeaway here is that any products that you buy to clean your home, make sure that you cross-reference the label with the CDC website. For the products that you guys use, you were very careful in the selection process, is that correct?

TJ: Yes, sir. It was very important to us not to just provide a service, but to really understand what we were trying to select and offer the very best products. Not just the product that would work – what is the absolute best provider of such chemicals that we can trust? Through our research, we believe that Ecolab has the best virus-killing products and cleaning agents on the commercial level.

Mike: Let’s talk about what folks can do at home. What are some tips that people can think about to make sure that they are making a safe environment for their families and loved ones?

TJ: A lot of people ask me this. I’ll go over exactly how we did it for our family, and how I’m helping everyone who asks me how to stay safe. If we’re to look at how to keep a house safe, we have to take a step back and look at the individual behavior of all of the members of your home. When you do that, you’re going to say, “we’re going to go to the grocery store, and then we’re going to come back.” That’s where the concern needs to start, right there, before you even enter the door. You need to have a plan here. For us, we decided to put ourselves in a position where we don’t cross-contaminate our home and bring the virus in. We have a laundry basket in our garage where we can take off as many articles as possible, and we have robes set up so we can just throw something on before we head to the shower. We’re really trying to eliminate just casually entering your house without taking any safety measures. Just with a little bit of effort you can eliminate so much risk. Once we’re in the house, what we’ve done is created a small punch list of frequently-touched objects, and on a daily basis we’re making sure we’re running around and cleaning all the knobs, all the switches – just be as thorough as possible, it doesn’t take long. I think that basic formula can be used whether you live in an apartment, a trailer, a mansion, it wouldn’t matter.

Mike: These are simple steps that you can take, and they don’t take a whole lot of time. It sounds like it’s really pre-planning. Having a plan ahead of time can be really effective, like having a laundry basket in your garage. Have a plan, it doesn’t take a lot of time, and these are simple steps that you can take to protect your family. Any other tips that you want to offer to folks out there?

TJ: I think it’s also important to understand visitors now that people are starting to visit one another a little bit more. While you may be very familiar with what other folks that are coming over have been doing, you may not. For us, we just assume that we don’t know what anyone is going to be doing outside of our house. We don’t know what their behavior is going to be like. So, we assume that everybody is kind of a threat, and that’s not supposed to be offensive, it’s just to keep us safe. We specifically allow our guests to come into a certain spot. We’re able to practice social distancing while still being social. I think that people should really take that into consideration – we’re not allowed to go around one other, but there’s still certain ways to socialize while being responsible and keeping your family safe.

Mike: That’s an interesting point. I’ve had interactions with people, whether it be in my own home or at my counseling practice, where we feel a little awkward because we instinctively want to shake hands, but we’re trying to maintain our 6 feet of social distancing. I guess that’s part of that “new normal.” As you mentioned, though, you can still interact with people, you can do it in a responsible way and still be sociable and respectful of other people.

TJ: It definitely takes getting used to. You don’t want to appear to be rude, but you do have to take responsibility of yourself. You don’t want to put anyone at risk because you’re not demonstrating responsible behavior.

Mike: Exactly. The overarching idea here is that we’re all safe. Nobody wants to get sick here, this is something that we want to take seriously, and we have to do it in a responsible manner. At the same time, we still want to be kind and respectful to others. As people reintegrate into society and they start going back to different establishments, what are some of the best practices that you might offer?

TJ: Multiple people have asked me that, also, and I think that the one thing echoes over and over is that you’re not going to be able to control other people’s behavior. Don’t even try. Rather than sticking it out and feeling uncomfortable the whole time, just get out of there. I think, hopefully, we’re dealing with a very small window of needing to do these practices. A lot of people have a really strong desire to see people, to talk, to feel love, and do all these things, but at the same time, some of those things are going to look a little different right now. It’s very important that you control your behavior and the environments you put yourself in. Whether a place is open or closed, letting people in or not, whatever they’re doing, make sure that you feel comfortable. Know what your limits are, and if you’re uncomfortable, get out of there, plain and simple.

Mike: I couldn’t agree with you more on that, I think that’s so important. I think the lesson here is what do we have control over, and what do we not have control over. We certainly don’t have control over what other people do. We really have control over two things, and that’s what we do with our hands and our feet, or our actions and how we react to a situation. I think each person needs to be situationally aware of their surroundings. Pre-planning is always good, but if you don’t feel comfortable, either don’t go there or leave the situation. Don’t put yourself in a situation where you feel like you’re compromising your own personal safety in some way. So, TJ, if we were to wrap this thing up and put a bow on it, what message would you leave people with, in terms of safety?

TJ: A lot of people have been home for a long time, and we’re on the internet, we’re seeking information, and we want answers. There’s a lot of information out there, and a lot of that information is contradictory. There are a lot of different opinions. Some people are doing a really good job staying safe while others don’t think it’s important at all. I think it’s important to have a plan for you and your family, make sure that you are doing your due diligence to keep your home safe, and be cognizant of the environments that you’re putting yourself in right now. Another thing that I think is really important and people are picking up on is the importance of good hygiene practices, especially hand hygiene. I don’t think people have ever been using so much hand sanitizer or washing so much, and I think that’s great. If anything, the new norm is that – we just stick with that. That’s going to help the whole entire environment.

Mike: Those are great tips. The other thing you and I have talked about is just thinking about how you can be useful to other people. There might be people out there who are in more vulnerable situations, so just thinking about ways you could help your elderly neighbor, for example. Are there others out there that you can reach out to, whether it be over the phone, by social media, or stopping by their home to see if they need anything?

TJ: Absolutely, I think that is going to be, in a certain way, a silver lining here. It’s going to really allow you to help one another. Maybe these situations didn’t exist before, but right now is the perfect opportunity to step in and do a nice deed for someone else. It’s rewarding on multiple levels.

Mike: And we acknowledge, these are tough times. These are unprecedented times for a lot of people. I’ve been seeing more and more people come into my practice who have never been to a therapy practice before, people with anxiety and stress and depression and trauma, with a whole host of different concerns. This thing is real, and it’s effecting people on a number of fronts. We need to acknowledge that this is a difficult time for a lot of people, including financially. A lot of people have lost their jobs and they’re scraping to try to get by. It’s tough times for a lot of people, but what we’re trying to emphasize today is to just practice good, safe habits. Cultivate good, healthy habits for yourself and your family, and try to look for ways that you can be useful to others. This is a difficult time, but it’s an opportunity for us all to come together on a unified front. I think in the end we’ll all come out stronger as a result. The last thing I want to talk to you about is service, this idea of giving back. Can you talk about, either for yourself or your organization, ways that you’re involved in your community?

TJ: So, what we’ve been doing is offering free consulting for anyone who needs help. If you have any questions, you can reach out to me. If there are any gray areas or any information that you’re having a hard time figuring out, or if you’re just looking for some advice, if I can help you I absolutely will. Within our communities, we’ve volunteered a lot of disinfecting services around town, just to make sure that the people who need help are getting it. That circle keeps expanding, so we feel good about that, putting people back into business, and we’re trying our best to move forward and take care of one another.

Mike: That’s fantastic. I love the work that you guys are doing. We do the same thing, we offer free consultation for anybody that has questions about their mind-body wellness. Always feel free to get ahold of us if there’s anything we can do. We’re always willing to give back to the community, and I love that you guys do that as well. I think it’s so important to be responsible stewards in the community and to give back. We’re always willing to help somebody if they’re less fortunate and they need help. Anything else you want to leave us with?

TJ: I think it’s just important that we all understand this is going to be a very short window of time in which all of these things are concentrated. If we can just make sure that we don’t put our guard down towards the end here, it’s going to be a lot shorter of a process. We can eliminate this a lot faster with people putting their plans in place.

Mike: Absolutely. Don’t let your guard down. If people want to get ahold of you, how can they do that?

TJ: You can go to our website, tntplantservices.com, or if you feel more comfortable just giving us a call, give us a call: (248) 249-5112. That’s actually my cell phone number, so you’ll talk to me directly. You can also email us at service@tntplantservices.com. If you’re interested in outsourcing a disinfecting service, we can provide it, and if you just want help reviewing what you’re doing, that’s what I do.