Coronavirus California: Grisly work of crime scene cleaners changes due to COVID-19 pandemic

EL CERRITO,Calif. (KGO) -- They do the job that you don't want to think about, crime scene cleanup. Now, the novel coronavirus is changing their business. And how they're dealing with the crisis can provide some important clues for all of us.

The first thing that impressed us was how they keep their spirits up, during a very difficult job. And they have had to make adjustments for COVID-19.

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One morning in El Cerrito, the team from Crime Scene Cleaners gathers at a diner to eat breakfast and to receive their marching orders.

Neal Smither, owner of the company, tells his workers, "I'm going to send you to Maguire for a van that's a corona van."

They tackle the job few of us would want to do, clean up after homicides, suicides and accidental death.

"I kind of put it out of my mind, and don't think about it too much," said Crime Scene Cleaner Lauren Spaulding. "I'm just there for the mess, I clean it and leave," she said.

They count on dark humor to help deal with what they encounter - see the blood drip design below the door handle.

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They also keep an Instagram account. We won't show all the crime scene pictures they post, but they also take after shots of the job they've done.

The shelter-in-place order has cut down on their typical business, less crime, fewer conflicts, but Neal Smither told the I-Team,"We are heavy duty with corona calls, I mean heavy duty."

Smither is getting calls from companies who've had an employee with novel coronavirus, from police stations and jails who want deep cleaning. He tells one client by phone, "If you have an intake area, a hundred, if you have a cell, another hundred, if you have a bathroom, a hundred, we just stack hundreds."

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He's running twelve employees 24 hours a day. A call came this week from a San Jose motel being used to isolate COVID-19 patients. A man in his 50's with pre-existing conditions had passed away. In the novel coronavirus crisis, his employees must fully suit up before entering any building: hazmat suit, respirator, puncture-proof boots, and all seams taped.

"We go on the assumption that you're disease-filled and they're disease filled and he's disease filled, and we don't want to get it," Smither said.

Business is booming here and around the state, as our sister station KABC found this week at the Culver City Police Department.

"Right now, I believe it has to be done," said Lt. Troy Dunlap, Culver City Police Department. "I think just to give officers the peace of mind when they are in the field because they are the ones that are contacting people on a daily basis, they are out in the field every day," he said.

Smither tells us, from the front lines, he can see that COVID-19 does not discriminate, and it targets all ages. "One of my guys went last night to Kaiser and got tested and tested hot so he's out for two weeks, and he's 24," he said.

And that is the message I want to get across about novel coronavirus, that you may be young, but not invincible. By the way, that diner is open. The owner allows just three people in at a time, but Neal Smither takes it over for his weekly meetings.

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