Angela DiAscro is a field chemist with the Institutional Water Treatment program, which provides water treatment advice to facilities with institutional water systems including cooling towers, chillers, boilers, etc. Like many people, she spent a large part of the spring working from home but has recently been able to resume field activities, while observing proper COVID-19 precautions.
Q. What is your role with the Institutional Water Treatment program?
I am a field chemist who travels throughout Illinois to sites, where I test boiler, cooling, softener water, etc. to make sure the systems have appropriate treatment levels. This helps the systems run more efficiently and have a longer lifespan. I often go to state police sites, correctional centers, veterans homes, some universities, and historical sites.
Q. Now that the state of Illinois has entered phase 4 of its COVID recovery plan and you’re back in the field, what precautions and safety procedures are you employing to reduce risk?
There are three of us who travel and each of us are, of course, wearing masks when we are at a site. We often interact with engineers at least part of the time we are on site and it is nice to see that many of the engineers are wearing masks, too.
Each of us have our own rental vehicles to travel and instead of renting them daily or weekly as we did previously, we rent them for a whole month to cut back on the number of different cars we interact with. We are currently training our newest field chemist, so instead of riding in the same car to sites, now he has to arrive in his own rental car and we do our best to stay 6 feet apart while we are at the site together.
We were not encouraged to stay in hotels when we started travelling again, either. Before the pandemic I would stay in one to two hotels a week for work, but now we are mostly doing day trips. Currently we have received the okay to stay in large chain hotels as long as we take disinfectant wipes/ sprays with us.
I keep hand sanitizer in the rental car and use it whenever I stop for food or gas. Before I leave a site, I wash my hands with soap and water for 20 seconds if it is available. I also try to use my own pen whenever I need to sign in or out at certain sites.
The bottom line though, is that we don’t need to do anything that we are not comfortable with (e.g. stay in a hotel, go to sites in high COVID areas), which I really appreciate.
Q. What new challenges do these unusual times and new precautions create?
Since we drive individual cars now and aren’t staying in hotels as often, I have had several 12+ hour days. My farthest site is ~3.5 hours away, in southern Illinois, so to do that in one day is already seven hours of travel. Without someone else in the car with you, it gets very tiring.
Many of the places we go do not have air conditioning and there is extra heat given off by the boiler or other systems present in the same room, so it can get above 95 degrees F. Now that I wear a mask while performing the site visit, I make sure I have water, a decent lunch, and hopefully a place to sit to take extra breaks while enduring the heat. Besides the heat, wearing a mask can be challenging because people can’t hear me, so I need to speak up.
Also, people can’t tell when I am smiling but hopefully they can see it from my eyes because I usually am!
Q. Is there anything else you’d like the institutions and people you work with to know?
I miss seeing a lot of people and it is harder to get simple questions answered or papers signed since I can’t just walk to someone’s office, but I’m glad people are taking this seriously and doing what we can to keep ourselves and others safe.