The key question facing restaurateurs, retail shop owners and other businesses during the time of COVID-19 is: how do we safely reopen our doors to the public?
Business owners need to reopen in a way that reduces the risk of infections, ensures compliance with regional guidelines, and reassures customers and staff they are in a safe environment.
According to several health and industry experts, there is one solution to stopping the spread of COVID-19 inside buildings that should be receiving more attention - bringing in more fresh air.
Early during the onset of the pandemic, Dr. Joseph Allen, director of the Harvard Healthy Buildings program at Harvard T.H. Chan School of Public Health, wrote an op-ed in the New York Times that said while current preventative practices can halt the spread of “respiratory droplets,” the larger droplets often visible when someone coughs or sneezes, they don’t stop smaller airborne particles called “droplet nuclei.”
Droplet nuclei develop when the fluid of pathogenic droplets evaporates and are so small and light that they can remain suspended in the air for several hours. This means they could infect people entering a room which the infected person has left or can be widely dispersed throughout a building via HVAC systems.
According to Dr. Allen, here’s what we should be doing to stop the spread of droplet nuclei:
First, bringing in more outdoor air in buildings [that have] heating and ventilation systems (or opening windows in buildings that don’t) helps dilute airborne contaminants, making infection less likely. For years, we have been doing the opposite: sealing our windows shut and recirculating air. This not only gives a boost to disease transmission, including common scourges like the norovirus or the common flu, but also significantly impairs cognitive function.
Buildings typically recirculate some air and don’t pump in enough fresh air, Dr. Allen writes, which can “lead to a higher risk of infection during outbreaks, as contaminated air in one area is circulated to other parts of the building.”
Dr. Allen cited a study that found “ensuring even minimum levels of outdoor air ventilation reduced influenza transmission as much as having 50 percent to 60 percent of the people in a building vaccinated.”
A scientific paper recently published on the U.S. National Center for Biotechnology Information (NCBI) website supports Dr. Allen’s contentions, concluding that hand washing and maintaining social distance are not enough to avoid contracting COVID-19 in buildings, saying:
Unfortunately, these measures do not prevent infection by inhalation of small droplets exhaled by an infected person that can travel distance of meters or tens of meters in the air and carry their viral content.
There is evidence that this is a significant route of infection in indoor environments. Despite this, no countries or authorities consider airborne spread of COVID-19 in their regulations to prevent infection transmission indoors.
It is therefore extremely important that the national authorities acknowledge the reality that the virus spreads through air and recommend that adequate control measures be implemented to prevent further spread of the SARS-CoV-2 virus, in particularly removal of the virus-laden droplets from indoor air by ventilation.
Many other experts believe that COVID-19 transmission rates can be lowered through better building ventilation as well.
The CDC recently published the results of a study by several researchers in China regarding a COVID-19 outbreak that started in a restaurant. Several patrons became infected even though they were seated several feet away from the infected person. The researchers found evidence that the recirculation of indoor air likely resulted in transmission.
In addition to increased social distancing inside restaurants and retail locations, the study recommends increasing the flow of fresh air through HVAC systems to ensure infectious aerosols are removed from indoor environments.
According to a recent article in the National Post, mechanical engineers at the University of Alberta said it’s common knowledge among experts that HVAC systems can distribute viruses and other pathogens. They believe COVID-19 transmission risk can be reduced in buildings through the use of filters and circulating more fresh air.
In another article in Nature, Dr. Lidia Morawska at the Queensland University of Technology in Brisbane, Australia, said, “In the mind of scientists working on this, there’s absolutely no doubt that the virus spreads in the air. This is a no-brainer.”
Dr. Morawska believes that increasing ventilation and reducing the recirculation of indoor air can help ensure that infectious aerosols are diluted and flushed out.
Industry organizations are also weighing in on the issue. The American Society of Heating, Refrigeration, and Air Conditioning Engineers (ASRHAE), for instance, recently released a statement that said:
Transmission of SARS-CoV-2 through the air is sufficiently likely that airborne exposure to the virus should be controlled. Ventilation and filtration provided by heating, ventilating, and air-conditioning systems can reduce the airborne concentration of SARS-CoV-2 and thus the risk of transmission through the air.
The good news is mCloud was developing a solution to increase building ventilation before the pandemic was even upon us.
In a previous blog post titled How to Cure ‘Sick Buildings, Carl Caruso, Director of Sales, Smart Facilities for mCloud, discussed the need for better ventilation in commercial buildings. He also repeated this message in a video interview on Constructech TV: The Foundation of a Healthy Building.
Carl noted that traditional HVAC systems have no way to adjust ventilation according to occupancy, and thus the only option becomes running the system at full blast and recycling the air as if the building were packed all day. Fortunately, mCloud has a cost-effective and convenient solution to address building ventilation in the age of COVID-19.
mCloud’s AssetCare for Connected Buildings leverages data from indoor air quality sensors and smart thermostats connected to HVAC systems to drive clean air inside buildings and mitigate the risk of infection from airborne droplets and particles.
These sensors can provide data to the AssetCare cloud-based platform on how many people are in a building in real-time while the platform’s artificial intelligence capabilities can adjust the airflow accordingly, thus saving money while keeping the building safer for patrons and staff.
In combination with other safety measures, the influx of additional fresh air at the right times can be an invaluable tool for your restaurant, retail store or other places of business.
This week we formally announced our indoor air quality solution as part of the package that also includes other advanced technologies to assist with social distancing and food safety to help businesses safely reopen.
Businesses interested in this AssetCare solution package should visit www.mcloudcorp.com/backtobusiness for more information.
We are here to help you get safely get back to business.