COVID-19 protections for employees and customers are crucial components for operating safely in the middle of this pandemic. Here are RESSAC, we’re constantly reviewing and updating our strategies both in the field and in our offices. We’ve had a number of customers ask us about integrating their HVAC systems into their virus protocol. So in this article, we’ll breakdown what we’ve found useful while creating our own COVID safety protocols, and provide links to informative guides and strategies that the CDC has created.
The newest information provided by the CDC points to COVID-19 still being primarily spread through large droplets, spread by surface touching or by breathing in close contact to an infected person. But nearly all respiratory viruses have some form of airborne spread. With COVID-19 still categorized as a novel virus, this is something to keep in mind. Recent COVID-19 studies also acknowledge the potentially lower, but still active, risk of airborne spread.
We’ll only briefly review the most basic of prevention strategies, masks and social distancing. As distancing becomes difficult in indoor situations, especially for any of your staff that may need to interact directly with customers, proper mask protocol become crucial. Masks reduce the potential spread of particles on the most basic level, a simple, easily implemented physical barrier that catches droplets.
And now to our specialty, your HVAC equipment and how it can help. The simplest and least expensive use is with airflow management. Increasing ventilation and bringing in fresh air helps reduce the concentration of airborne contaminants. Opening up any manual economizers on your equipment, or considering having economizers installed, will also reduce the amount of recirculated air that’s being funneled through your air conditioners. Exhaust fans are another option if economizers aren’t available. They lack the capacity to bring fresh air in, but they can help remove stagnant air at greater rate.
We’ve gone over the importance of a solid maintenance program in the past, and we’ll mention it again now. If you’re banking on your A/C units to properly circulate fresh air, dirty, clogged filters will only slow it down. You may also consider increasing the MERV rating of your maintenance filters. Higher MERV rated filters are more efficient at catching particles, all the way up to the 99.97 % efficiency of HEPA filters which are used in hospitals.
That efficiency, however, can be detrimental. Not every unit is correctly configured to handle high MERV filters. Incorrectly sized or rated filters can actually reduce overall airflow capacity, negating the benefit of the high quality filters. Your units can be assessed by your HVAC contractor to determine whether or not they can handle the increased workload. You need MERV 13 or higher to actually utilize these more expensive filters as part of your COVID-19 strategy, as lower ratings are not fine enough to reliably catch viral particles.
And we should discuss the possible application of air purifiers, scrubbers, humidifiers and UV light purifiers as a potential part of your safety strategy. Most air purifiers, especially the larger floor units and duct installed equipment, claim reduce the circulation of airborne viruses, bacteria and mold spores by up to 99.9%. However, most units are only supported by company funded studies. Anecdotally, RESSAC has received positive feedback from the customers we’ve provided purifiers for on odor reduction and air quality comfort. But there is currently “no direct clinical evidence” for lowering the risk of viral spread.
Our opinion is to treat the scrubbers, purifiers and humidifiers as supplemental protection if you decide to use them. Assess your stores or homes carefully before installing anything also. A site with well designed ventilation will benefit most from duct mounted units, such as UV light purifiers. UVC radiation has been used effectively in the pas to deactivate viruses such as SARS. The virus particles would need to reach the UV purifier first, though, hence the need for strong ventilation. Humidifiers provide potential viral protection as well as visual peace of mind. And studies have shown that maintaining proper humidity levels could help reduce survival rates of viruses on surfaces.
A multi-tiered COVID-19 safety strategy will provide the . Build your safety protocols from the basics up, starting with standard masks and distancing. Reduce office population by coordinating work-from-home with staff that can. Increasing your indoor airflow to improve mask efficiency for employees that need to be onsite. The addition of purifiers or humidifiers may potentially reduce transmission. Face-to-face business safety right now is all about reducing the risk and ensuring both customer and employee comfort.