PEABODY — Mark Fabrizio was folding towels at Sunshine Express Laundry Center on Foster Street in Peabody Thursday morning. He has a condo nearby, he said, but the shared laundry facility in the building is frequently busy.
"I'm doing what I have to do," he said. "I have to do my laundry."
As coronavirus forces people out of public spaces, some people who don't own a washer and dryer and rely on shared laundry facilities or a laundromat don't have a choice.
"Like everybody else, I've been staying in as much as I can," said Fabrizio, who said he was careful to wipe down the table where he was sorting and folding.
Some still worry that may not be enough to curb the spread of the virus.
A national trade group, the Coin Laundry Association, is in the midst of a public awareness and lobbying campaign to try to reassure both the public and officials that it's still safe to use laundromats.
"These facilities provide a basic public health service by serving millions of families with a safe place to wash and dry their clothes each and every week," the trade group said in a press release this week. Commercial washers offer more powerful agitation and gas-fired dryers can reach much higher temperatures than residential machines.
"Access to services is particularly important for laundromat customers who are often among low-income families with few alternatives to the neighborhood laundromat for clothes washing," the group said.
But even if the virus doesn't survive hot water (at least 80 degrees) and an even hotter dryer, evidence suggests it can live for days on both hard and soft surfaces. To that end, the group is recommending that owners increase cleaning of surfaces like lids and door handles.
Still, things have slowed down at local laundromats.
"People are cautious," said Michele Allen, who works as an attendant at two laundromats, including Beverly's Fluff 'n Fold. "People are still dropping off, but it's not as busy."
She has had to reassure some regular customers that employees are regularly sanitizing counters and machines with products like Lysol and bleach. Employees also have gloves and masks to use.
The business has also added a new policy asking customers to wait outside in their car while their loads are in the washer or dryer, and not to bring their young children, who tend to want to touch everything and then put their hands in their mouths.
For Allen, who suffers from asthma, the situation is concerning. "We don't know if people are sick when they come in. I've worked here for 15 years and I've never had to deal with this."
A similar policy is in effect at other laundromats like Scrubbles on Central Street in Peabody, where a sign on the door asks people not to come in if they're showing symptoms.
The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention has also published guidelines for anyone doing laundry, whether at home with a sick family member, or at a public business.
Among the CDC's recommendations are that laundry be washed in temperatures of at least 80 degrees, or as warm as possible in line with the care label and then dry them fully.
The CDC is also recommending using disposable gloves and to wash hands with soap and water immediately after taking them off.
Don't shake your dirty laundry due to the possibility that virus particles could become airborne.
The CDC also recommends cleaning and disinfecting clothes hampers or laundry baskets where dirty laundry is kept, using a disinfectant product.
Another customer at Sunshine, Trish Lavorate of Peabody, has her own washer and dryer but they can't handle a large comforter she needed to clean on Thursday.
"I don't know, as scary as it is, and I know you're supposed to be quarantining yourself, but you just can't let this rule your life," said Lavorante, who is still taking precautions. "I have Purell in the car. I Purelled before I came in and I'll Purell again after I'm done."
Courts reporter Julie Manganis can be reached at 978-338-2521, by email at firstname.lastname@example.org or on Twitter at @SNJulieManganis.