Ten employees at the Eastern Sanitation Yard have tested positive for COVID-19 and about another 20 are self-isolating out of concern of exposure, according to acting DPW director Matthew W. Garbark.
All 135 employees who work out of the Bowleys Lane facility have been sent home to self-isolate as a precaution, Garbark said. They are among roughly 800 employees in the department’s Solid Waste Bureau.
The department has had a total of 15 positive COVID-19 cases this year, Garbark said.
What is DPW doing about it?
The Department of Public Works has decontaminated the facility and the roughly 100 trucks at the yard, and officials plan to let them sit for two weeks, then decontaminate them again, before resuming operations, Garbark said.
“We want it to sit completely empty and vacant for at least two weeks," he said. "The three weeks gives us a buffer in case there is some scheduling [issue] to get the decontamination team in there.”
The Eastern Sanitation Yard already had been closed to the public since March due to COVID-19, and masks and hand sanitizer have been distributed to DPW employees to contain the spread of infection, Garbark said.
“We took quick action,” he said. "We suspended a lot of other services beginning back in March. This is something we were immediately concerned about happening back in March, the worst scenario being that it would affect core operations.
“Our actions have allowed us to make it this far without something of this magnitude happening. ... We’re in a much better place than we would have been if this had happened earlier.”
Will trash pickup be affected?
The Bowleys Lane facility serves North, East, Northeast and Southeast Baltimore, and people who live on the east side might see a delay in trash pickup this week, Garbark said.
“Residents can expect all trash collections to be resolved no later than Saturday," the acting DPW head said Wednesday. "We appreciate residents’ understanding as we mobilize and restructure to ensure everyone’s trash is collected and disposed of properly.”
Should I be worried about getting COVID-19 from touching my trash can or recycling bin?
Officials say you’re unlikely to contract the virus merely from touching your trash can or recycling bin.
But, if the news of the outbreak makes you nervous, wearing gloves or washing your hands thoroughly afterward couldn’t hurt.
“We’ve spoken to the health department, we’ve also spoken to other health care practitioners — there’s very little chance of that,” Garbark said Wednesday. “What we believe happened is employees may have come in contact with someone within their working group who had the virus, and it spread pretty quickly.”
When will curbside recycling pickup resume?
Curbside collection is suspended, effective immediately, and should resume around the end of June or early July.
But the department stopped short of committing to an exact date.
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“Our expectations are to resume recycling in about 3 weeks," DPW Jennifer Combs said in an email. "We will provide updates as we near the 3-week mark.”
Can I drop off my recycling instead?
The city is offering three options for people who don’t want to look at their recycling for three weeks and prefer to drop it off instead.
The Sisson Street Citizen Drop-Off Center at 2840 Sisson St. is reopening immediately for public use. City residents can drop off trash, recycling and any bulk items at the facility.
Recycling can also be dropped off at the Northwest Transfer Station at 5030 Reisterstown Road from 7 a.m. to 5 p.m. Monday to Saturday, or the Quarantine Road Landfill at 6100 Quarantine Road from 9 a.m. to 5 p.m. Monday to Saturday.
Can I put my recycling out with the trash?
It’s not a great solution, but if you get really desperate, you can put your recycling in the trash, and the garbage collectors will haul it away, Garbark said.