Tracey Pallazola of Rockport brought more than just detergent to clean her clothes at the laundromat on Friday.

She brought her own cleaning supplies to Good Harbor Laundry on Bass Avenue in Gloucester, not because the laundromat wasn't clean — it was — but out of caution in a time when the novel coronavirus is spreading to the North Shore. Cases have been reported in Ipswich, Boxford, Swampscott, Marblehead, Salem and Andover, while the state's first death from the disease was that of a Winthrop man Thursday.

As coronavirus forces people out of public spaces, some people who don’t own a washer and dryer and rely on shared laundry facilities or a laundromat don’t have a choice. 

"I'm just being as careful as I can be, Pallazola said. "I have to do laundry."

She came prepared.

"I brought my can of Lysol with me, I Lysoled everything as I went in, I Lysoled all the surfaces, and I got my Clorox wipes that I wiped all the machines down and the buttons down before I put anything in," she said. 

Some still worry that may not be enough to curb the spread of the virus.

A national trade group, the Coin Laundry Association, is in the midst of a public awareness and lobbying campaign to try to reassure both the public and officials that it’s still safe to use laundromats. 

“These facilities provide a basic public health service by serving millions of families with a safe place to wash and dry their clothes each and every week,” the trade group said in a press release this week. Commercial washers offer more powerful agitation and gas-fired dryers can reach much higher temperatures than residential machines. 

“Access to services is particularly important for laundromat customers who are often among low-income families with few alternatives to the neighborhood laundromat for clothes washing,” the group said.

But even if the virus doesn’t survive hot water (at least 80 degrees) and an even hotter dryer, evidence suggests it can live for days on both hard and soft surfaces. To that end, the group is recommending that owners increase cleaning of surfaces such as machine lids and door handles. 

Taking precautions

Still, things have slowed down at local laundromats. 

“People are cautious,” said Michele Allen, who works as an attendant at two laundromats, including Beverly’s Fluff ‘n Fold. “People are still dropping off, but it’s not as busy.” 

She has had to reassure some regular customers that employees are regularly sanitizing counters and machines with products like Lysol and bleach. Employees also have gloves and masks to use. 

The business has also added a new policy asking customers to wait outside in their car while their loads are in the washer or dryer, and not to bring their young children, who tend to want to touch everything and then put their hands in their mouths. 

A similar policy is in effect at other laundromats like Scrubbles on Central Street in Peabody, where a sign on the door asks people not to come in if they’re showing symptoms. 

At Good Harbor Laundry, Pallazola said she felt more comfortable outside as she waited for clothes to finish cycling in a machine.

"A lot of times, there's a table inside, a lot of times people will sit, and have a cup of coffee and watch TV or whatnot. People aren't doing that," she said. "They putting it in, walking outside, staying outside. Everyone's just trying to stay safe.

For Allen, who suffers from asthma, the situation is concerning. “We don’t know if people are sick when they come in. I’ve worked here for 15 years and I’ve never had to deal with this.”

The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention has also published guidelines for anyone doing laundry, whether at home with a sick family member, or at a public business. 

Among the CDC’s recommendations are:

Laundry be washed in temperatures of at least 80 degrees, or as warm as possible in line with the care label and then dry them fully. 

Use disposable gloves and wash hands with soap and water immediately after taking them off. 

Don’t shake your dirty laundry due to the possibility that virus particles could become airborne. 

Clean and disinfect clothes hampers or laundry baskets where dirty laundry is kept, using a disinfectant product. 

Another customer at Sunshine, Trish Lavorate of Peabody, has her own washer and dryer but they can’t handle a large comforter she needed to clean on Thursday. 

“I don’t know, as scary as it is, and I know you’re supposed to be quarantining yourself, but you just can’t let this rule your life,” said Lavorante, who is still taking precautions. “I have Purell in the car. I Purelled before I came in and I’ll Purell again after I’m done.” 

Staff writer Andrea Holbrook contributed to this story.

Courts reporter Julie Manganis can be reached at 978-338-2521, or on Twitter at @SNJulieManganis. 

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