How Engineering Can Clear The Air
Early in the COVID-19 pandemic way back in 2020, we here at Design World did quite a number of stories on companies designing and building ventilators and other medical devices to accommodate the rapid uptick in need in the face of the COVID surge. This was still in the emergency phase of the pandemic, with much uncertainty and the sudden and surging need for all sorts of medical supplies, including PPE of various types for front-line medical workers as well as the ventilators that were in short supply.
Now, two years later, we are far removed from those early emergency days and know a lot more about the virus and how it spreads. We also have many more effective ways to both combat the spread of the virus, including a number of highly effective vaccines which also lessen disease severity, as well as treatments should one get infected.
Other mitigation strategies, including the by now all-too-familiar social distancing and masking, can also be effective. However, there is still one huge area of impact that is often overlooked or just not covered in the media much at all. And this is where engineering comes in. From almost the beginning of the pandemic, we’ve known that the virus spreads primarily through the air, either in aerosol form or in droplets. The truth of the matter is that engineering can play a central role in dealing with COVID-19 and other respiratory diseases by focusing on air quality, something that HVAC engineers know all about.
Air quality is perhaps the single most important environmental factor that engineering can control in order to reduce the risk of illness. This can include better air filtration and air fl ow rates from building HVAC systems that increase supplies of fresh air, to something as low tech as opening windows to let in fresh outside air.
A number of studies including from the EPA and the NIH as well as published studies in journals of building design and engineering conclude that HVAC systems play a central role in indoor air quality and what steps need to be taken to help reduce the risk of viral transmission and spread. Key areas include air movement in buildings including exchange rates for fresh air. Other factors include filter design in HVAC systems and using high quality filters to clear the air of contaminants such as bacteria and viruses. This means not only the coronavirus but other viruses that cause respiratory illnesses like the common cold and the flu.
Anyone who’s ever worked in a building with poor air quality, where people were always sneezing or catching colds or other respiratory ailments, knows the importance of good indoor air quality. In this sense, improving HVAC systems in the ways suggested can not only decrease the spread of pathogens such as the coronavirus but also others that make people sick, making for a better and healthier indoor environment all around.
The world learned these lessons once before in the wake of the 1918 flu pandemic, which caused a shift in thinking in terms of building design and ventilation. A lot has already been done, but we can (and should) push to do more.
Filed Under: DIGITAL ISSUES