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The Risk of Airborne Virus Transmission in Buildings

June 1, 2020

As of today, COVID-19 has claimed over 374,000 lives worldwide with over 6 million confirmed cases but, according to a recent New York Times article, new cases are decreasing in hard-hit Italy, France, Spain and the U.K.   The CDC reports flattening death curves from the virus in New York, the epicenter of COVID-19 in the U.S. while most of the 50 states are slowly attempting to get back to a semblance of normal life.

States are cautiously re-opening buildings after a virtually global shutdown due to the COVID-19 pandemic.  Restaurants can operate at limited capacity, salons are open in some area, and more and more people are getting back to work away from their homes and into office buildings.

Is it safe?

That’s what researchers at the Department of Energy’s Lawrence Berkeley National Laboratory (Berkeley Lab) are trying to find out.  They are launching a study to determine what the risks are of airborne virus transmission inside buildings and what we can do to curb those risks.

The researchers are studying risk levels under different scenarios:  normal ventilation, extra ventilation, or extra filtration.  They’re using aerosols and droplets to figure out how likely it is that a building occupant could inhale an infectious virus when sharing a room (or even a building) with an infected person.

While COVID-19 is of particular interest currently, the researchers aren’t thinking only of the recent pandemic.  Indoor air quality has been of interest for decades and the researchers have already gathered massive quantities of data about the transportation of many indoor air pollutants.  Due to the focus on indoor air quality and how it directly impacts building occupants, an ongoing consideration in building design is how to increase the quality of our indoor air to keep occupants healthy and comfortable.

Many of our manufacturing partners are particularly focused on indoor air quality.  There are several products of interest on the market right now, including:

  1. NPBI Technology from Global Plasma Solutions:  This patented technology releases charged ions into the air that attach themselves to pathogens and allergens.  These larger particles are then trapped by filters, safely cleaning the air inside the building.

  2. HVLS fans combined with Ultraviolet Germicidal Irradiation: The use of ultraviolet radiation to kill or inactivate microorganisms combined with HVLS fans to distribute large amounts of air throughout a building for better ventilation can be an effective solution.
  3. Indoor air purifiers: Camfil offers indoor air purifiers that remove harmful dust, allergens, and toxins from the air. 

These are only a few of the solutions with the ability to combat airborne viruses and each have a wide variety of applications.   It’s best to consult with a manufacturer’s rep to discuss what solutions might be available for your particular application.

We all want to ensure that indoor air quality remains a top priority in building management in the coming months as we work to decrease the effects of a pandemic.  The researchers at Berkeley are hard at work learning more about how airborne transmission of viruses can be curbed.  We are working with our manufacturing partners to learn more about what solutions we can offer to help keep building occupants safer as the world re-opens.


What is the state of the air in your area?




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Kelly Patterson

Kelly Patterson

Kelly Patterson is a lifelong learner and the marketing director at the Hoffman family of companies. There is nothing she likes more than talking about commercial HVAC systems and extraordinary customer service.

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