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Cleaning up and the coronavirus: Meet Marleen Vega of Cooley Dickinson Hospital 

  • Marleen Vega, the leader of the environmental services day shift team at Cooley Dickinson Hospital in Northampton. Photographed Tuesday, May 5, 2020.  STAFF PHOTO/CAROL LOLLIS

Staff Writer
Published: 5/11/2020 1:35:48 PM

Editor’s note: The Gazette is working on a series profiling workers on the front lines of the COVID-19 pandemic. Please let us know if you would like to connect at

NORTHAMPTON — When a COVID-19 patient leaves a hospital room for home and doctors and nurses shift their focus to new patients, there’s still another step left: cleaning.

Any trace of the virus needs to be scrubbed from the patient’s room. That’s where Marleen Vega, leader of the environmental services day shift team at Cooley Dickinson Hospital, comes in. 

Since the pandemic began, her days are “definitely a lot busier,” she said. “We’re nonstop.” She and her team are disinfecting high-touch areas throughout the hospital, she said, “from doorknobs to phones.” Other employees from departments with less work, such as operating room technicians, have been deployed to help clean with her team, she said.

Vega dons an N-95 mask, goggles, a gown and gloves when going into rooms where a COVID-19 patient stayed. “We definitely feel protected,” she said.

Usually, cleaning patients’ rooms after they leave takes around 40 minutes, but for rooms that housed COVID-19 patients, it can take nearly double that time, Vega said. 

In addition to disinfectant cleaner, they also use a UV-C light, which they flash on the empty room in two, 10-minute increments, once before they clean and once after, she explained.

Coming in close contact with the coronavirus can be stressful, Vega said, but “If I follow the protocols and gown up and wash my hands and keep my distance, I’m OK with it.” Still, added Vega, who has a 13-year-old daughter and 1-year-old granddaughter, “It can definitely be nerve-wracking. I have two little ones at home … Are we nervous that we might take it to a family member at home? Absolutely.” 

After her shifts, Vega walks out of the hospital for the first time in 8 ½ hours and takes off her mask. “When I leave here and the fresh air hits my face, it feels amazing,” she said.

When she goes home to Springfield, “my little one likes to jump on me,” she said of her granddaughter. “But it’s not safe for her to do so.” Instead, Vega goes to the basement and puts all of her dirty clothes in a bag, then takes a shower.

At work, she and her coworkers finds ways to lighten the mood. Throughout the day, the team takes breaks when they can and turns on upbeat music, like Taylor Swift’s “Shake It Off.”

“We just dance around for two seconds,” Vega said. “It’s a stress reliever. It’s good to take a few minutes to tell myself, ‘It’s going to be OK.’”

Greta Jochem can be reached at

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