Facility Managers Should Pay Attention To The WHO’s Rethinking Of How COVID-19 Spreads
On July 8, the World Health Organization (WHO) acknowledged there is emerging evidence that COVID-19 spreads through the airborne transmission of micro respiratory droplets. This means the virus may travel over longer distances than initially thought and even stay suspended in the air for many hours. This is a break from the WHO’s previous guidance. Its stance to date has been the virus mainly spreads via large respiratory droplets directly from someone’s cough or sneeze, which tend not to travel much further than one metre in distance.
The WHO’s announcement responds to an open letter co-signed by 239 scientists arguing that COVID-19 can be transmitted through the air. The scientists claim there is growing evidence that the virus spreads through micro droplets (known as aerosols) that travel up to several meters and even across full rooms. The scientists also argue the risk is greatest in indoor or enclosed environments, particularly those that have inadequate ventilation relative to the number of occupants.
If airborne transmission is a route for the spread of the virus, facility managers will need to change their infection control processes. Current approaches centred on workplace social distancing and cleanliness will be insufficient. Facility managers will need to expand their strategies to optimize ventilation and indoor airflow in ways that reduce the spread of an airborne virus. In NYC, the government already requires shopping malls to add high-efficiency particulate air (HEPA) filters to air conditioning systems. These filter out particles that are 0.01 micron, smaller than the 0.125-micron diameter of the coronavirus particle.
Forward-thinking facility managers should act now to revisit building ventilation strategies, so they can successfully minimize transmission risks as buildings re-open following lockdown. They should also look at replacing HVAC filters with those that have a higher particle removal efficiency. The ASHRAE also recommends that buildings managers open outside air intake dampers before occupation and make better use of natural ventilation to improve the quality of indoor air.
For insights into getting your workplace ready for re-opening, read our recent report, Beyond COVID-19: Emerging Best Practices For Occupant Health And Wellbeing.