There’s much talk online and offline about the 2019 Novel Coronavirus, or SARS-CoV-2, the new respiratory virus identified in Wuhan, China, few months ago. While one should not surrender to the general panic and alarmism, it is also a good rule to stay informed, listen to official sources and keep tabs on the best practices. In this piece, we enquire particularly about Indoor Air Quality and Coronavirus: can the former, if good, be helpful against the latter?
COVID-19 (the name of the illness caused by the Novel Coronavirus) creates common symptoms like fever, cough, breathing difficulties. In severe cases even pneumonia, acute respiratory syndrome and kidney failure. Death occurrences were mostly associated with other pre-existent medical conditions.
Tiny droplets of water coming from coughing, sneezing and so on can travel through the air, entering the lungs and infecting people around us. Besides, contact with high-touch areas followed by touching of eyes, mouth or nose, can also contribute to the spreading (fomite transmission).
Coronavirus and Indoor Air Quality
This is where Indoor Air Quality – or more generically, Indoor Environmental Quality – comes into play. If the virus can be spread through the air and over surfaces, then it is possible to take a few measures against it. What can we do, then, about our indoor spaces?
Indoor spaces at risk
Needless to say, some spaces are more at risk than others. Waiting rooms in healthcare facilities, common rooms, restaurants, hotel rooms and halls, public transports, taxis, trains and so on. According to BESA (Building Engineering Services Association) an urgent review of building ventilation strategies should be carried out to help tackle the spread of the Coronavirus. In fact, increasing ventilation and filtration rates could help reduce the risk of virus transmission.
Educate the building occupants
The first step would be of course an educational one. Sharing awareness is essential to reduce the risks. For this reason, there are a set of common best practices every building occupant should be aware of. Like washing your hands often (for more than 20/40 seconds), for example. Coughing/sneezing in a tissue and throwing it away immediately is also very important, as much as avoiding contact with infected people.
This is helpful to fight a lot of diseases, including Coronavirus. According to this study, 30% of hospital surfaces showed signs of Sars coronavirus RNA during its outbreak back in 2003. Although SARS Coronavirus and SARS-CoV-2 are different viruses, they also share 80% similarity. Therefore, regular and increased cleaning and disinfection of high-touch surfaces and objects is fundamental.
There’s no space for closed windows in the fight against the virus. Nowadays, our buildings are designed and constructed to be tightly sealed to save energy, but this affects the indoor air quality. If fresh air is never supplied, the indoor air can get stale, and this is more harmful than good. In buildings where windows are closed, in fact, the risk of transmitting infectious diseases is up to four times higher. Where the weather allows it, make sure to open windows and let the fresh air in. Well ventilated spaces are key!
We can’t stress it enough: well ventilated spaces are essential in making the building safer. Ventilation can come from open windows (natural ventilation) or it can be provided by HVAC systems (mechanical ventilation. The good thing is, one does not exclude the other. In the case of mechanical ventilation, though, it’s important to make sure a few requirements are met. For example, it’s essential to have a well maintained system with regularly replaced filters. In the words of Darryl K. Boyce, president of ASHRAE, we learn that “While ASHRAE supports expanded research to fully understand how coronavirus is transmitted, we know that healthy buildings are a part of the solution”. At this link you can find ASHRAE’s guidelines to address COVID-19.
If HVAC systems don’t have filters, installing air purifiers in each room could still help reduce the spread of viruses. Air purifiers equipped with HEPA or PECO filters could help partially capture Coronavirus (but not kill it!). But you can’t only rely on them! The virus, in fact, can become airborne, but also spreads through contact with a contaminated person or surface. So, while the air purifier takes its time filtering the air in a room, it could fail to catch the virus quickly enough before it comes into contact with a person or surface.
Some viruses (like influenza) survive best at low relative humidity (lower than 30/20%) and low temperatures. And even with warmer temperatures, they show great resistance, but mostly in the presence of dry air. The classic home or office environment, where the temperature ranges from 20 to 24 degrees for comfort, with relative humidity between 20% and 40%, is exactly the perfect habitat for these viruses to thrive. It is surely too early in the research to state with certainty whether the Novel Coronavirus will act the same in regards to humidity. Still, it’s a good preventive measure to maintain healthy levels of air humidity and ventilation at all times. Good Indoor Air Quality is of the essence, with Coronavirus.
Too many people in the same room are usually a problem per se. People breathe CO2 in the air, that in high levels can make everyone sleepy, and dizzy. But in the fight against Coronavirus, having less people in each room may be crucial and not to be underestimated. This goes for wider indoor spaces as well – malls, train stations, public transport, airports, hospital waiting areas and more. It’s very common to find overcrowded spaces in such environments, usually accompanied by a general lack of ventilation and fresh air.
Ozone has proven effective in the past against the SARS Coronavirus of 2003. There are no studies to date (except an ongoing one at the Institute of Virology In Hubei, China) that state that it will also work on the Novel Coronavirus. Given their almost identical structures, though, it could be safe to assume (but then again, for the moment this will just be an assumption) that it could be effective in – at least – reducing the risk of infection from SARS-CoV-2. If anything, we particularly care about warning on the recommended use of Ozone for room purification. Firstly, Ozone should only be used by trained personnel. Exposure, even brief, can be dangerous for you, so no living thing (person or pet) should be in the room while the ozone generator is running. During the procedure, windows are to remain closed. For up to 3 hours after, no one should enter the room, and windows should be opened for a while before entering the room. If you wish to try Ozone purification against Coronavirus, we recommend you read more on this topic here and on EPA’s website.
We hope to have cleared some thoughts on Indoor Air Quality in relation to Coronavirus. If you are interested in knowing more about Airgloss IAQ monitoring solutions you can read more on our website. Catch up on our background working with NASA, too!