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Many Of Chicago's Biggest Buildings Sit Virtually Empty; What Will Life Look Like When Remote Working Is Over?

CHICAGO (CBS) -- O'Hare International Airport, Navy Pier, Willis Tower; some of Chicago's biggest sites are essentially empty these days.

CBS 2 Morning Insider Lauren Victory takes us inside one industry that hopes to safely get the masses back into the massive buildings in the Windy City.

Jose Quintana jokes he's not the famous Cubs pitcher. He's gearing up for a different game in Chicago: germ killer.

The electrostatic sprayer has become a popular pandemic sight, but the tool is nothing new for Quintana's giant janitorial company, ABM Industries.

Even before the pandemic, the sprayers were commonly used by janitorial firms.

"We used them primarily in our education business. Education is focused on disinfection more because of the flu, and MRSA, and norovirus," said TomGallo, ABM senior vice president of strategy and transformation.

Gallo said their commercial clients now want in on the deep disinfection devices. The spray helps hit every nook and cranny, and there are a lot of those in ABM's rolodex.

More than 100 years after starting with a one-man window washer, the company services more than 50 buildings in Chicago alone, including the Old Post Office, where 2.8 million square feet need daily cleaning.

Machines, both manned and robotic, take care of the floors.

Quintana tackles the high-touch points. He's done this process for 16 years, but the virus requires more visits to the same spots.

"Sometimes 6, 10, 12 times a day to keep surfaces disinfected," Gallo said.

One of the main operational changes: more cleaners on site during the day. That means the team is seen by the hundreds or thousands of people who will eventually return to work in these massive buildings.

"Visibility is a really big part of our program," Gallo said. "We've typically been behind the scenes, right? Our team members come in at night after people have gone home."

Gallo said watching the wiping live brings a sense of safety, and hopefully draws employees and customers, tourists and visitors out of their homes with confidence.

"We look at it as we are one of the gateways to reopening the economy," Gallo said.

The U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention put out simple but specific COVID-19 guidelines for office buildings earlier this summer.

Among the suggestions:

  • keep windows open for air circulation for as long as possible;
  • ancourage employees to push elevator buttons with a pen cap;
  • and promote the use of stairs instead of elevators or escalators.
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