Better Ventilation and Room Monitoring is Needed to Prevent Spread of COVID-19

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As most governments look to re-open business in an effort to revitalize economies and bring people who have been furloughed or laid off during the COVID-19 crisis back to work, questions continue to mount as to whether it’s really safe for people to return to work environments without starting a second wave of the outbreak.

The WHO and CDC both recommend washing hands frequently and avoid close contact with others (i.e., social distancing).  But, experts say that may not be enough due to the airborne nature of the virus.

 “The world appears to be locked in the old way of thinking that only direct contact matters in viral infection spread. It is disconcerting that with all the experience and evidence currently available, when faced with a new viral outbreak of COVID-19, the authorities still fail to acknowledge the airborne pathway of transmission.”

Lidia Morawaska and Juni Cao
Airborne transmission of SARS-CoV-2

According to Dr. Barry Po, President of Connected Solutions at mCloud, the droplets that people produce by talking sneezing, coughing, even breathing, can largely evaporate, leaving behind tiny droplet nuclei.  These droplet nuclei are much lighter once the water has evaporated, allowing them to float in through the air and move through buildings longer.

What it means is the hand washing, regular disinfecting of surfaces, and six-foot-distancing measures may not be enough to effectively prevent the spread of this – or any other virus.  Instead, businesses and governments need to look at their ventilation systems to maximize circulation and implement decontamination measures.  Health experts say that the best way to reduce the spread of airborne contaminants – like viral droplet nuclei – is actually simple:  More fresh air.

“Transmission of SARS-CoV-2 through the air is sufficiently likely that airborne exposure to the virus should be controlled.  Changes to building operations, including the operation of heating, ventilating, and air-conditioning systems, can reduce airborne exposures.”

ASHRAE’s Environmental Health Committee

Ironically, despite its assertions that social distancing and hand washing are effective, the CDC recently published a report detailing the spread of the novel coronavirus in a restaurant in Guangzhou, China, through droplet transmission.

“We conclude that, in this outbreak, droplet transmission was prompted by air-conditioned ventilation,” wrote the study’s authors.  “The key factor for infection was the direction of the airflow.  To prevent spread of COVID-19 in restaurants, we recommend strengthening temperature-monitoring surveillance, increasing the distance between tables, and improving ventilation.”

mCloud’s AssetCare solution is designed to help ensure air flow and quality in buildings, leveraging sensors and smart thermostats in connected buildings to increase the flow of clean air, reducing the spread of airborne droplets and, therefore, lowering the risk of infection.  The data includes building population at any point in time, which the platform’s AI capabilities use to adjust the air flow to ensure enough clean air is passing through each part of a building – while reducing it during low occupancy periods, such as when a restaurant is closed.

The idea is to make sure enough clean air is passing through facilities quickly enough so that, in conjunction with filters and other air purifying mechanisms, only clean air is pushed to employees and customers.

That’s not to say that washing hands and social distancing are necessary – they just may not be enough to reduce the spread of COVID-19 or any other virus quickly enough.  But, combined with better ventilation systems, these measures could significantly improve air quality in buildings.

In fact, even under normal circumstances, better flow of clean air can help employees work more efficiently.  In buildings with better ventilation, lower concentrations of carbon dioxide, and other “green” variables, people have been shown to exhibit higher cognitive abilities