One of the most highly anticipated sessions at the mCloud Connect virtual conference last week was the panel titled “Something in the Air,” a conversation about the importance of indoor air quality in mitigating COVID-19 and other pathogens by some of the top experts in the field.
Moderated by mCloud’s Director of Marketing Nancy Murray, the panel featured:
- Dr. Stephanie Taylor, a leading lecturer on infectious disease mitigation at Harvard Medical School and member of the ASHRAE Epidemic Taskforce and Environmental Health Committee;
- Dr. Mark Ereth, professor emeritus of the Mayo Clinic College of Medicine and Chief Medical Officer at SecureAire
- and John Macomber, a top lecturer at Harvard Business School, expert on business case in implementing new technologies with aging infrastructure, and co-author of the book “Healthy Buildings.”
As the panel acknowledged, it has become clear that SARS-CoV-2, the virus that causes the COVID -19 disease, is often spread via airborne transmission of tiny particles that can remain suspended in the air for several hours. The World Health Organization (WHO) and the Centers for Disease Control (CDC) recently revised their guidance on avoiding infection, stating that airborne transmission of the coronavirus is a risk, especially in indoor, crowded and poorly ventilated spaces. Current mitigation efforts such as handwashing, sanitizing surfaces and enforcing social distancing won’t prevent airborne transmission.
Following is a brief look at what the panelists discussed on how risk from COVID -19 transmission as well as other pathogens can be reduced by deploying better indoor air quality measures:
- Dr. Taylor described her studies in reducing the impact of pathogens in hospital settings. She discovered a “startling but powerful finding” that humidity played in a role in the number of patient infections. She found that many pathogens are inactivated when indoor humidity is between 40-60%. Humidity levels also play a role in enhancing respiratory immune systems, she said.
“We haven't been looking at the built environment from the perspective of human health,” Dr. Taylor said. “We've missed some of the opportunities to manage our buildings with occupant health as a key metric. And humidity happens to be one of the things we've neglected.”
- Dr. Ereth said his interest is in eliminating micro particles from indoor air, especially those of a size that may contain the SARS-CoV-2 virus and other deadly pathogens. He said particle control technology in operating rooms has been shown to be effective in reducing infections in addition to controlling humidity as Dr. Taylor has found. He also recommends that systems be deployed that can measure these ultra-fine particles in the air to validate the benefits of the technology. Carefully directing air flows for optimal capture of the virus in a filter is critical as well.
“Increasing fresh air exchanges from a ventilation standpoint is also going to help to dilute the microbial load or the viral load within a space,” Dr. Ereth said. “That's always beneficial.”
- A former commercial real estate executive, Professor Macomber talked about how buildings were sealed in the 1970s to reduce energy use. However, that continuing approach has contributed to public health issues now fully apparent with the advent of COVID-19. He said the cost-benefit of enhancing indoor air quality through the measures the panel described, such as increasing ventilation, filtration and maintaining healthy humidity, are now clear when it comes to managing buildings.
Professor Macomber also cautioned that many sectors such as hospitality will struggle to recover from the COVID-19 pandemic. He also predicted that the growing popularity of personal air quality monitors will force schools, offices and apartments to address their indoor air quality issues.