Can Ventilation Spread COVID-19?
Up until just a handful of months ago, terms like "HVAC" and "ventilation" weren't exactly hot topics on the world wide web.
All of that changed, however, when the first cases of the new novel coronavirus, SARS-CoV-2, were announced.
Suddenly the race was on to deconstruct the Wuhan, China, restaurant where the index patient dined and then infected nine other diners.
At first the pattern of infections in that restaurant seemed like an open and shut case. Until researchers noticed something strange: some of the diners who caught COVID-19 were seated too far from the index patient to blame a lack of social distancing.
That left only one other obvious culprit behind the virus spread: the restaurant's ventilation system.
Could air conditioning be at the root of the now-worldwide pandemic we are facing? In this post, learn what we know, what we don't and what you need to know to stay safe.
Can Coronavirus Spread Through Ventilation?
Answering this question is tough - especially if you don't want to spark a worldwide panic.
After all, ventilation is an essential component to two modern conveniences that are near-universally loved: air conditioning and heating.
This may explain why none other than the World Health Organization (WHO) itself recently issued two completely different position statements regarding the role of ventilation in potentially spreading COVID-19.
- Twitter (March 28, 2020): COVID-19 is "NOT airborne."
- WHO official brief (March 27, 2020): Airborne transmission "may be possible..."
- Part of the challenge in interpreting the information in these WHO memos is that researchers are still arguing over the definition of "airborne transmission."
Could Proof of Airborne Transmission Be Found in Research Funding?
On April 2, 2020, the Canadian Government issued nearly half a million dollars in research funding to a team of scientists working to develop ventilation upgrades to protect against airborne transmission of COVID-19.
The team's stated goal for how they plan to use the research funds is to "make buildings safer."
Researchers say there is definitive evidence that infectious droplets containing active COVID-19 viral particles can go airborne and stay that way long enough to travel greater distances and potentially infect people.
The research team plans to delve even more deeply into the facts of how the air conditioning and ventilation system at the Wuhan, China, restaurant transmitted COVID-19 from the index patient to nine other diners who were not seated close enough for direct droplet transmission.
The team also plans to investigate a variety of HVAC filtration and air purification options to isolate how/whether certain measures have a greater impact on disrupting airborne COVID-19 transmission.
Ventilation Can Potentially Cause COVID-19 to Spread To Further Distances
From this information, it seems both smarter and safer to err on the side of caution and assume COVID-19 can potentially spread with help from ventilation air currents.
This is also scary information to take in! It means social distancing alone may not - and likely is not - sufficient to protect you, your loved ones and your workers from encountering virus droplets.
So, what now? What can you do to stay safe as researchers continue working to identify and introduce new protective strategies?
Air Filtration and Air Purification: Two Protections Available Now
We just talked about how the University of Alberta research team is spending their nearly half a million dollars in research funding to study air filtration and air purification.
The team wants to identify how varying the frequency of filter changes, the types of filters used and the indoor air quality aids installed may reduce the risk of COVID-19 airborne transmission.
How Air Filtration May Protect You From COVID-19
Let's start by looking at air filtration.
There are many types of air filtration that can be used with your garden variety residential or commercial HVAC (heating, ventilation, air conditioning) systems.
The type that is of greatest interest to researchers at the moment is called HEPA, or high efficiency particulate air, filtration.
HEPA filters are incredibly dense. They are too dense to work with the blowers in most residential and commercial HVAC systems.
But HEPA filtration can be added as a standalone filtration system to work directly with the ducts in a central HVAC system, bypassing the blower motor and simply filtering the warmed or cooled air before it enters the air ducts.
Portable HEPA filters can be used in non-ducted or single-room spaces in a similar way, simply by continuously filtering airborne micro-particles out of the air.
How Air Purification May Protect You From COVID-19
Air purification in this context refers to ultraviolet germicidal irradiation using short-wave band-C UV light - the most powerful type.
At close quarters, UV-C light can change the molecular structure of organic viral particles so the living RNA inside each molecule cannot function correctly.
UV light purification systems can be retrofitted to work with any central HVAC system, even if a HEPA filtration unit is also in place.
Portable UV purifiers are also available to neutralize airborne toxins in non-ducted and single room spaces.
Keep Changing Those HVAC Air Filters!
We also strongly recommend that you continue changing your HVAC air filters at least monthly, but even more often if you are able.
The cleaner your HVAC filter is, the less risk there is of toxic buildup that could get blown back out into your indoor air.
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Mitsubishi and Bosch are currently offering rebates up to $1,000 on popular heat pumps and water heaters.
Contact Our Team at Bi-Temp Ltd.
HVAC, plumbing, electrical and air quality are considered essential services here in Ontario province and Bi-Temp remains open for your emergency repair and service needs (read our COVID-19 service statement). Are you in need of heating and cooling services in Belleville, ONtario? Curious of the cost to install central air, ductless and other HVAC systems? Give us a call at 1-613-967-1066 or visit us online. Located in the Quinte area, we serve Belleville, Trenton, Brighton, Napanee and surrounding areas!