Trash collectors in Mexico City are raising concerns that they are at risk of contracting Covid-19 from garbage contaminated with the virus by victims who are being treated at home.
The workers say they are dealing daily with more trash such as masks, syringes, sanitizing wipes and other waste that are potentially infected with the Covid-19 virus, which are mixed with other home trash.
“Generally, no one is alerting us that they have Covid patients in the house, and everything in the garbage is mixed together,” a collector who preferred to remain anonymous told the newspaper Excélsior. “We were told that people were going to be given red bags so that we would know not to open them, but those never happened … There have been no controls on this.”
In a report on October 27, the Mexico City government reported that the agency in charge of trash collection and waste management (Sobse), which is responsible for the movement of 12,500 tonnes of garbage per day, has recorded 41 collectors infected with Covid and 24 who have died from it.
Alethia Vázquez Morillas, a researcher with the Metropolitan Autonomous University who studied the issue in the fall, suggests that trash collectors be among the first people to receive the Covid-19 vaccine.
Vázquez conducted interviews with trash collectors in México state and discovered that few are wearing protective gear like goggles, mouth coverings or masks while working even though the SARS-CoV-2 virus can survive for 72 hours.
The virus can potentially remain not just on medical-related trash like face masks and gloves but also on paper and plastic goods like toilet paper and disposable cutlery and plates. Any of these items containing the virus pose a risk to people handling them in that 72-hour window, she said.
The federal environment ministry and Sobse officials have not done enough to alert the public to the need to separate garbage contaminated with Covid, Vázquez believes.
“Although the environment ministry and Mexico City’s waste management agency have created flyers and done publicity on social media to train workers, I don’t think that there has been sufficient education of the public so that everyone has clarity on what is expected of them,” she said.
In June, Efraín Morales, director of Mexico City’s urban services and sustainability agency, reported that the federal government and Sobse had created a protocol for the management of potentially infectious waste from homes. However, that protocol has yet to be made public.
Vázquez says that a sufficient way to keep trash workers safe would be for people in homes with a Covid patient to separate and double-bag any Covid-infected trash, spray the bag with sanitizer and leave it three days in storage before putting it out for collection.
Source: Excélsior (sp)