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Duane Barnes

Students and employees at UW-Madison share their insights onto what being on campus during a pandemic is like.

Niki Denison
October 14, 2020

Duane Barnes is a supervisor with Buildings and Grounds, and his responsibilities include Noland Hall (formerly Noland Zoology Building) and Integrative Biology Research (formerly Zoological Research), as well as part of Birge Hall.

How did the pandemic affect you?

It’s isolating. There was a time where I’d go all day long without seeing anyone — except for Joel the painter who’s in my van [pool] now. He was painting my building. I would run into him on occasion, but sometimes not all day along. I like people. I like being around people, but there weren’t too many people to be around. It’s been kind of lonely, but people are starting to come back now. Even now after research has started back up and classes have started back up, there’s very few people in the building, because they have to schedule a time [to come] in. They can only have so many people in so many square feet of the building. It becomes a little bit more challenging when I have to go and do something, because I have to try to avoid people. I really like what I’m doing. It would be nice to have a little extra help though. You can’t hire any students anymore. I move a lot of stuff, and it would be nice to have an extra set of hands once in a while.

What hasn’t changed?

The work is still there — the services are still required, we just don’t have as many people using them. Because my buildings are a mixture of academic and research, there is always equipment running all the time. Things have to be kind of watched. I still have my regular routines that I have to do. Like on Fridays, I have to go in all of my buildings and flush all the eye-wash stations, so I take the opportunity to walk the building to try to see if there’s anything going on.

What has changed?

I can’t be everywhere at once, so I hope that people in the buildings would let me know if they see water dripping on the floor or something like that, or if they have [other problems]. And I’m still finding a lot of things that somebody should have told me about months ago, but because there is nobody around, I’m [only] finding it now. Just today I was up in Birge Hall, and when I went into this room there was this dust on a shelf, so I looked up by the ceiling, and I found an effervescence in the corner of this room up above the ductwork. So I called Physical Plant to come and investigate what is causing that. Most likely it’s a leak of some sort.

I wear my mask all the time and wash my hands all the time. That was one thing I realized about this whole pandemic thing — I didn’t realize how often I touched my face. I never even gave it a thought until I started washing my hands and stuff like that. My hands are so soft and supple now. [Just kidding.] I still have callouses.

What’s a typical day like?

I let people know that packages have arrived, because before the campus was locked down, everything used to come right to our building. But when the pandemic hit and they locked the campus down, they sent everything to MDS [Materials Distribution Services in Verona], and they have signature authority out there. It really created a big mess as far as [tracking] the packages that were coming. I just kind of make my rounds generally down here at Noland and also at Zo Research (we had a name change to Integrative Biology). On a typical day, I check the dock and then I check my computer and check for any alarms on the monitoring system. Then I try to head up to Birge Hall about 11 and check that loading dock and do the things that I normally do up there. I have three projects going on up there, and I check on those and make sure that they’re moving along. I’ve been scheduling to have the custodians come in and strip and wax the floors. The custodian crew has been great. I really feel for those guys. Because of all this COVID stuff, they’re doing extra cleanings and stuff like that and cleanings in between things, and more than what they usually do, and they do a lot behind the scenes. Most people don’t realize that every night the custodians are there cleaning and dusting and mopping and stripping and waxing. Now that this COVID stuff is going on, they’ve been really taxed. I try to be back down to Noland by 3 because I drive a van pool, so I have leave at 3:30 sharp. There was a period of about four weeks that it was just me in the van, because everyone else was working at home. Right now there are only four people that ride my van. Normally we have 12.

What’s one thing you’ve done to help Madison face the pandemic?

The department donated all their PPE except for six boxes of gloves. I think there were 10,000 boxes of gloves that we donated [as well as] face masks. Some of the PIs [principal investigators] donated their N95 masks. My boss said yeah, just pack everything up, and we had three SWAP [Surplus with a Purpose] boxes filled up.

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