The COVID pandemic disrupted normal building operations for facility managers and building owners all over the country. Initial recommendations and guidelines for cleaning and disinfecting changed overnight when the WHO announced that transmission of the SARS-CoV-2 virus was through aerosol droplets. The discovery created challenges facility managers had never faced before, and the health and safety of their building occupants relied on the decisions on how they cleaned and managed their facilities going forward.
Reducing COVID-19 transmission requires a multi-layered approach, but the foundation starts with adequate indoor air quality. Below are some high-level steps Facilities managers can take to provide cleaner air throughout their buildings.
Air purification involves the removal of harmful particulates and contaminants from indoor air. These contaminants can include debris such as pollen, VOCs, bacteria, and viruses. Aside from COVID-19 viral transmission, exposure to particulate matter levels in the air can lead to health complications over time.
The CDC recommends selecting a high-efficiency particulate air (HEPA) filtration system when choosing an air purification system. It is beneficial to have an air purifier in every room to provide in-room filtration. However, if that is not possible, placing the units in higher risk areas such as a nurse's office, conference rooms, or areas frequently inhabited by people with a higher likelihood of having COVID-19 or an increased risk of getting COVID-19.
Your ventilation system is another significant component that keeps your building air clean. Proper ventilation allows your system to filter unclean air and introduce new, cleaner air. It is less likely to have contaminants that could infect your inhabitants or cause health problems.
If your building already has an HVAC ventilation system, check to ensure ventilation systems operate correctly and provide acceptable indoor air quality for the current occupancy level for each space. A simple change might be rebalancing or adjusting HVAC systems to increase total airflow to occupied spaces.
Ensuring proper filtration throughout your HVAC system is essential. Enhance your filtration by installing adequately sized MERV-13 air filters or the highest-rated MERV filters your HVAC system can accommodate. Close any gaps around air filters to minimize air moving around them instead of through them.
If you don't have HVAC, you need to implement in-room air purification systems to provide added air cleaning and more fresh air exchanges when outdoor air ventilation isn't possible. This will make up for losses in ventilation while still providing clean air to your building occupants.
Recommended strongly by the CDC as a method of viral mitigation, UVGI (Upper-Room Ultraviolet Germicidal Irradiation System) systems are commonly used in educational, healthcare, workplace settings. When installed along the top part of walls, upper UVGI systems create a disinfection zone with UV-C light safely above occupancy level.
The CDC recommends UVGI systems for indoor spaces with a high risk of airborne COVID-19 transmissions, such as cafeterias/break rooms, restaurants, lobbies, workspaces, and classrooms. UVGI systems can increase air exchanges by combining high-circulation fans with UV-C disinfection while eliminating airborne pathogen particulate.
The Biden Administration recently launched an effort to improve air quality in buildings throughout the United States. The Clean Air In Buildings Challenge is a call to action for facility managers and owners to improve ventilation and air filtration in their buildings to reduce the spread of COVID-19.
In partnership with the EPA, the White House put together a high-level Clean Air In Buildings Fact Sheet to help facility personnel assess their indoor air quality and improve ventilation and air filtration to help keep occupants safe. The guidelines establish best practices for improving indoor air quality and reducing the risk of spreading dangerous airborne particles.
The Clean Air in Buildings Challenge contains a set of clear recommendations organized into four groups:
Reducing COVID-19 transmission requires a multi-layered approach, but the foundation starts with adequate indoor air quality. In a post-COVID world, Facility Managers and Building Owners must prioritize indoor air quality. The health and safety of their buildings' occupants depend on it. Use the information provided as a resource and a foundation to help you start your journey to create a healthier facility for your tenants.
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