Public facilities serve their specific purposes, whether they be to educate children, support communities with meeting space and programs, house and support our elderly, maintain the movement of people, or supporting our emergency services resources. It is not an understatement to claim that ensuring these facilities are able to open and operate in a safe and healthy manner underpins the ability for our economy to re-open and thrive. There is no other way.
Despite the rolling out of vaccines, it is also obvious that while 2021 offers a light at the end of the tunnel, not much has changed from the devastation left from the wake of the 2nd wave. Newly identified strain variants don’t guarantee the long-term effectiveness of the vaccines, but resemble more of an equivalent of ongoing serious flu seasons.
Thinking through how facilities can operate in a safe and healthy manner, what are to be likely challenges? What would success look like?
Firstly, before people are able to enter a facility, there must be systems in place to assess, in real time, whether people have Covid-19. One way to eliminate the spread of the virus within the facility is ensuring that those who are asymptomatic and may be unaware, are denied access. There are a number of ways to accomplish this, ranging from regular testing, increased speed to generate results, and ability to manage access more effectively.
We believe having the tools in place to assess this would be instrumental in helping prevent further spread of the virus.
Secondly, once people are allowed access into a facility, there are secondary measures visitors and tenants can take to prevent the spread of the virus. Some of these measures include the wearing of face masks and coverings, social distancing, frequent washing of hands and surfaces, to name a few. Unfortunately, the reality is that a good percentage of people are not going to follow all instructions at all times. If this were the case, the spread of the virus would have been contained long ago. The next opportunity to use best practices is to increase the fresh air requirements to maximum levels and bring in 100% fresh air to ensure that air within the facility is exhausted to outside. The reality is that each building has several variations of HVAC (heating, ventilation and air conditioning) configurations.
There is no one-size-fits-all solution to using your HVAC to prevent the spread of Covid-19
Each HVAC system and their unique characteristics, such as age of system and ability to retrofit, form the basis of what technology may work best to reduce the spread of Covid-19.
This isn’t meant to be exhaustive, but there are a few technologies that destroy Covid-19 in the enclosed environment. Maintaining a humidity level between 40% and 60% assists by making the Covid-19 droplets heavier and thus drop quicker before they can reach other facility users. This method, however, doesn’t solve the problem that for a brief period droplets are falling and coming into contact with a surface, providing opportunity for people to touch these affected surfaces and aid in spreading the virus.
Bi-polar Ionization energizes the air that passes by its tube to form bi-polar, positive and negative, air ions. The air ions serve to attach themselves to molecules in the air and neutralize them, thus stopping the spread of Covid-19. The tubes can be placed either in-duct or in room to generate the ions.
UV (ultra violet) light solutions when combined with filter technology, prove to sterilize biological contaminants like germs, mold and viruses, such as Covid-19, in the air. UV light products can also be places in-duct or in room.
Filters are critical because there are scenarios where the locations of the UV light boxes or the amount of ionization don’t cover the entire facility evenly, for several reasons, filters are another defense to capture what hasn’t been destroyed or eliminated. Filters can’t solve 100% of the challenge because as with Covid-19, other viruses, mold and germs are captured in the filter, which may lead to an eventual puncture in the filter due to excessive collection.
There are many solutions to designing the right disinfection processes in a facility, but a few challenges must be considered.
The pandemic has caused a backlog of the supply of key components of UV and ionization systems. Designing the ideal solution for your facility’s characteristics may not be possible if the products are on backorder for another 6 months after they’re required.
Thirdly, let’s assume that you have identified, designed and installed the right systems for you to stop the spread. Just like your fresh air requirements, there are always settings and set points you can configure your systems around to ensure that you meet the needs of disinfecting your facility.
We know that disinfection is about ensuring that the facility is safe and disinfected, but how do your users know? Unless you are running tests in new protocols to audit the success of the disinfection in those key high occupancy areas or recently problematic classrooms, you, your users and their families do not know if you are preventing or promoting the spread of Covid-19.
Developing and executing a disinfection audit protocol coupled with a public dashboard is the only way to generate comfort with the facility use.
Finally, the amalgam of these solutions and protocols are to also ensure that your facility can operate at a new evidence-based level of energy use. Using a more holistic integrated approach to maintaining a safe place means that your energy costs can come down again.
Leading by example will mean our economy can open again.