Say the word hero and one might quickly imagine cape crusaders who are able to stop a locomotive with a single punch or save a damsel-in-distress by whisking her away from harm at the speed of light.
Meet Michael Elvord. With courage as his shield and love for humanity as his breastplate, he cleans operating rooms and hospital corridors daily amid the COVID-19 pandemic. Most would flee the responsibility given the mounting death toll this silent monster, the novel coronavirus, has claimed.
“I know that the job I’m doing is important,” said Elvord, an environmental services specialist at UnityPoint Health – Meriter Hospital. “This is serious, and people’s lives are at stake.
“I take care of the surgical rooms before and after surgeries. I have to sanitize and sterilize the rooms to make sure they are ready for the next procedure. That’s what I do 95 percent of the time,” he added.
Largely absent from national attention are the hundreds of thousands of workers devoted to disinfecting hospitals. These frontline personnel are among those most likely to be exposed to the virus and most essential to combating its spread.
Suited up in surgical masks, medical gowns and gloves, Elvord is indistinguishable from other medical staff. Like so many others in the health care field, he is responding to the onslaught of the COVID-19 pandemic with professionalism and fortitude.
“From the offset I realized, like many others at the hospital, that this was something serious,” Elvord said. “We saw what was going on in China and Italy in their hospital systems. Then we saw how New York was being overwhelmed. We knew it was coming our way.”
From staff meetings to hospital memos, he witnessed the growing progression of the environmental services jobs take on new meaning ̶ being the critical first line of defense against infection.
“There was never any level of panic. Just obviously a heightened level of concern, not just for our patients, but for our own health, our own safety and the safety of our families,” said Elvord, who also works as the facilities manager at the Urban League of Greater Madison.
Elvord admits he wakes up some mornings, from time to time, wondering whether this is the day he is exposed to the virus. But, knowing all the safety protocols in place at the hospital, he shrugs it off as something that occasionally crosses that back of his mind.
Seeing firsthand the devasting effect the COVID-19 outbreak has had on hospital workers and families of those fallen ill to the virus, Elvord will warn anyone he sees, without hesitation, not practicing social distancing or wearing masks.
“There are people dying out here. They don’t know what danger they are putting themselves in. Not only themselves, but anyone they come into contact with,” said Elvord, a Madison resident and proud father who self-quarantines himself from his loved ones.
By the time this article went to press, Wisconsin had more than 12, 540 new people who have tested positive for COVID-19, the state Department of Health Services reported. There have been an upwards of 2,040 people hospitalized so far, putting the hospitalization rate at 16%. Just over 450 have died from coronavirus.
Dane County reported having a total of 536 new cases, according to Public Health Madison and Dane County. The first case of the new coronavirus in Dane County, which was also the state’s first confirmed case, was reported on Feb. 5. Lastly, there have been 25 people who have died from COVID-19 across the county.
With Wisconsin’s “Safer at Home” restrictions set to expire May 26, Elvord warns a rush to return to normal could be risky. He said if those who believe the coronavirus is a hoax or an “older person’s disease” could walk in his shoes for a day, attitudes would change.
“The work done here is serious and it literally changes people’s lives,” Elvord said. “If I don’t do my job and I don’t do my job well, then the next patient that comes into the OR room may be at risk. So, I clean and sanitize that room as if the next patient were my mom, my dad, my brother or someone I love each time.”