While the halls, walkways and buildings of Long Beach State remain unusually empty through the pandemic, few essential workers remain to maintain the campus.
Jesús Mendez, the building trades supervisor is one such worker. Whenever something needs fixing around campus, Mendez and his team are the ones who typically respond. Despite an empty campus, their jobs have not changed much.
“We have a lot of leak issues that we try to work with while people are not here,” Mendez said. “There are still things that are getting broken, and we are fixing it.”
This situation has provided Mendez with the ability to work on certain issues without having to work around people who may be inside rooms that need repairs.
“Before we had to communicate with the customer if it was OK to go in,” Mendez said. “Now we send them an email and make sure no one is there and start performing the job. We have a lot of jobs going because we can get to those spaces now that the students are working [from home].”
Student housing is taking advantage of the emptier campus as well. According to Housing and Residential Life Director Corry Colonna, just over 100 students are still living on campus. Many residence halls are currently empty, open for pending repairs.
Normally, housing is only empty for small windows of time throughout the year, which makes thorough cleaning, repairs and projects difficult. Now, they are currently considering repainting the rooms at Parkside College Dormitory and possibly putting in new blinds at other residence halls.
Frank Marticorena, a campus plumber, said that HRL used to have to coordinate larger projects when residents occupied most of the rooms.
“We can’t just go in and shut down the building, so now I’m able to do bigger projects, take my time with them and correct a lot of these issues,” Marticorena said. “We have dining halls with many students that go and every day, they’re getting three meals a day. So we got a lot of problems with the drain system.”
When some students began moving out this semester because of the pandemic, custodians and custodial leads went through the dorms to pack up items some students couldn’t come back for and put them in storage.
Then they did some light cleaning and made sure all the garbage was taken out and all refrigerators were empty.
“Now we’re going back through and starting the deep cleaning of all the furniture and wiping down the walls, every nook and cranny,” Colonna said.
The staff also uses a nebulizer that can turn a disinfectant into a gas. This has allowed for more thorough cleaning.
The University Police Department continues to monitor any crimes on and around campus. Though the job is the same for the most part, safety measures are still practiced and enforced.
“Our unnecessary public contacts have been halted,” Capt. Richard Goodwin said. “For example, if someone reports the theft of property that occurred days prior we will take that report over the phone. Our contacts in the field with individuals are kept at a distance, if possible six feet.”
Though it has been “humbling” for the department to see the campus so empty, student safety remains important to them, as well as the safety of their officers, Goodwin said.
With the increased opportunity for work, issues of health, hygiene and safety come up for these essential workers. All are taking precautions to be safe while doing their jobs.
“We are wearing our masks, and then we’re wearing gloves,” said lead custodian Debora Aguilera. “I wiped all the tables to make sure we can put our stuff there, so we are taking extra time to clean too.”
The UPD officers wear masks and gloves and carry hand sanitizer with them at all times. Marticorena sanitizes his tools and equipment before and after use and wears protective gear.
The same goes for Mendez whose directors and managers provide masks and gloves whenever he and his team need more.
“I feel safe to come to work, I feel safe going back home and knowing I’m not bringing anything back because we do clean up before the end of our shifts,” Mendez said.
Aguilera shared a similar sentiment. So far, working on campus has not been worrying.
“We feel safe. There’s no reason to be nervous, we’re taking care of ourselves,” she said.
There are fewer staff members on campus and those that are on campus continue to maintain safe distances from one another.
For Mendez, what has been most important is making sure all the needs of the workers are met and maintaining their safety. He also found that some basic courtesy has helped in these times.
“[We are trying] to be very conscious that we are going through a very hard time, trying to understand the frustrations of others as well,” he said. “When they try to walk through campus, try to give them a smile and try to give them their space too because we’re all together on this.