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How Does Infected Air Travel? How Can We Stop It?
As the weeks and months slowly pass, scientists and researchers are steadily learning more about all the possible ways that the new novel coronavirus, SARS-CoV-2, may be able to spread.
It nearly goes without saying that not everyone in the scientific and public health education communities is in agreement about these new findings; however, there is sufficient consensus to begin channeling research funding towards improving building HVAC systems and indoor air quality.
In fact, researchers right here in Canada just received $444,000 in research funding to identify specific HVAC system improvements in order to reduce airborne virus transmission.
This is both scary and promising!
Indoor air quality experts at the University of Toronto have also identified four key ways that aerosol SARS-CoV-2 particles could travel through the air from an infected person and infect someone else.
In this post, we bring you up to date on these new airflow patterns and share four ways you can take action to protect yourself and your family.
Four Ways Infected Air Can Use Ventilation Systems to Travel
CTV News recently shared the findings of a University of Toronto indoor air quality expert and researcher named Jeffrey Siegel, PhD.
As Dr. Siegel explained, if infectious aerosol droplets were to become airborne, they could potentially use four different airflow pathways to infect new people.
Four Airflow Pathways For COVID-19 Particles
1. Ventilation flowing into public or shared spaces.
When ventilation sends air into public areas such as hallways, corridors, elevators, lobbies, restrooms, laundry rooms, workout rooms and other similar multi-use spaces, this air can then flow out and continue its journey, carrying infectious aerosol airborne particles with it.
2. Ventilation between two open adjacent windows.
This can be especially relevant in more dense urban areas where dwellings or work spaces can be so close together that opening one window may cause airflow to travel between two different dwellings or buildings.
3. Ventilation from plumbing pipes, registers/vents and exhausts.
More than one case of COVID-19 transmission has occurred in China due to airborne aerosol transmission involving sewage, plumbing pipes and exhaust fans.
Because the new novel coronavirus can also remain bioactive in human waste, it can be transmitted if there is any leaking or seepage from toilets or plumbing pipes. Use of contactless air dryers and exhaust vents can blow the droplets into the air, where you may unknowingly come into contact with them.
4. Ventilation from a shared HVAC system.
Any space that uses a shared ventilation system, such as a central (ducted) HVAC system, may act as a conduit for infectious aerosol droplets containing COVID-19 to travel from an infected person to reach new people.
While these four pathways are especially concerning in multi-unit spaces such as office buildings, condominiums and apartment complexes, they can be relevant in single family dwellings also, especially if one family member is immune-compromised or recovering from COVID-19.
Four Steps You Can Take to Protect Yourself from Infectious Air
While many public agencies worldwide are still hesitant to come right out and state that COVID-19 can be transmitted by aerosol airborne microparticles, most research scientists are more outspoken.
In one recent Nature journal article, an Australian researcher came right out and stated that the scientific community looks at the question of COVID-19 spreading through the air as a “no brainer.”
That being said, we feel it makes sense to share information right away about practical ways to protect yourself, your workers and your family from ventilation-related COVID-19 risks.
More caution rather than less seems to be the order of the day right now, and it just seems smart for each of us to do whatever we can do to stay healthy and safe.
So here are four steps you can take now to protect yourself from the possibility of contracting COVID-19 through airborne transmission in ventilation systems.
How To Protect Yourself From Infectious Air
1. Increase indoor air ventilation using fresh air sources.
Indoor air quality researchers continue to emphasize the importance of increased indoor ventilation, or more fresh air flowing through your indoor space.
Now, researchers are emphasizing fresh air and not recirculated air. If your HVAC has the option, make sure it is set to “fresh air”.
A heat recovery ventilator or HRV is the gold standard in providing continuous fresh air circulation inside any space. The HRV works with any central (ducted) HVAC system to pull in fresh air that can dilute airborne infectious particles and push them out with the stale indoor air.
2. Use portable or central HEPA filtration to remove airborne microparticles.
Researchers have posted several ways that coronavirus particles might become airborne in order to travel longer distances using airflow (ventilation) systems. One way is by attaching to airborne solid microparticles. If a small aerosol droplet can attach to a microparticle solid, it can go wherever that solid particle goes - including into your lungs.
HEPA filtration is still the gold standard for high-density air filtration today.
3. Add ultraviolet purification near any air source.
Short-wave ultraviolet band-C light can potentially neutralize even very small coronavirus particles – if it can reach them.
Central UV purifiers can irradiate your HVAC coils as air passes over them, while portable purifiers can purify the circulating air in smaller or non-ducted spaces.
4. Keep wearing your mask, washing your hands and social distancing.
One of the deadliest aspects of COVID-19 is how it can jump from an asymptomatic infected person to someone new.
Because there are so many people walking around who don’t even know they have COVID-19, this is not the time to reduce your regular personal protective routines.
Get in Touch
Clean Air Solutions in Hamilton is dedicated to ensuring the cleanliness of your indoor air. We are open and serving you safely with contactless options.
For our customers who want to schedule an indoor air duct cleaning, we are currently offering a 10 percent discount across the board for any of our three packages!
HVAC System Additions To Control The Risk of COVID-19
After several months of research and several weeks of debate, The American Society of Heating, Refrigerating and Air-Conditioning Engineers (ASHRAE) recently released two official position statements regarding COVID-19 and ventilation.
Both position statements give the Canadian public a much clearer picture of how the new novel coronavirus, SARS-CoV-2, may be transmitted via ventilation systems and also what may help to reduce the risk of such transmission.
Learning that COVID-19 can spread through HVAC systems such as air conditioning and heating units is scary to hear.
There is, however, a bright spot in this dark news - rarely do we get a risk assessment that comes already accompanied with recommendations for remedies. In this case, modern indoor air quality technology has already advanced to the point where we can do a lot in order to reduce the risk of spreading or catching COVID-19.
In this post, we will learn how cutting edge indoor air quality helps reduce your risk of encountering infectious airborne coronavirus droplets.
Understanding ASHRAE's New Position Statements
In early April, the Centers for Disease Control (CDC) pre-published a research study confirming that the first cases of COVID-19 were induced by airborne transmission (you can learn more about this research study in our previous blog post here).
While terrifying, it is important to remember that knowledge is power. We can't fight what we don't understand. The more we know about how coronavirus spreads, the more protections we can put into place to stop it from spreading.
The ASHRAE position statement is based on not just this CDC study, but several other research studies that have looked at the previous SARS outbreak of 2003 and other similar outbreaks.
What We Have Learned From ASHRAE's COVID-19 Research Study:
- Making changes to heating, air conditioning and ventilation can reduce the risk of SARS-CoV-2 airborne transmission.
- Specifically, strategic ventilation and filtration changes can reduce the threat of airborne exposure.
- Disabling any component of a working HVAC system is unwise and can lead to thermal stress that impairs immune system response and COVID-19 resistance.
What Ventilation and Air Filtration Changes Should You Be Making?
The next natural question many of our customers have had is, of course, what changes to HVAC ventilation and air filtration should be made to reduce the risk of encountering infectious SARS-CoV-2 droplets?
In answering this question, we are lucky to have decades of research to draw from in order to identify the best and most appropriate tools to use.
Install a Heat Recovery Ventilator
If you are not yet familiar with the heat recovery ventilator, these devices are now required for all new building construction within the greater Toronto area. If you live in Hamilton, Canada, as well as the surrounding areas, this would include you! Contact Clean Air Solutions to install a Heat Recovery Ventilator today!
Heat recovery ventilators eliminate concerns about new airtight building construction standards that prevent structures, whether homes or workplaces, from "breathing" naturally.
As the ASHRAE statements explain, when a building cannot breathe, the concentration of infectious droplets can quickly build up within a space.
Ventilation, done poorly, can create conditions ripe for the new novel coronavirus to spread, but when ventilation is managed well, it can become an essential aid to reducing the risk of infection.
Heat recovery ventilators easily retrofit to work with any existing central ducted HVAC system, steadily removing stale and toxic air while ensuring a continual supply of fresh oxygenated air.
As a side perk, HRV systems, as they are commonly called, also help reduce your energy costs by recycling energy that would otherwise be wasted.
Add a HEPA Air Filtration System
HEPA is an acronym that stands for "High Efficiency Particulate Air." The HEPA filter was first developed during the second World War. The first HEPA filters were actually masks!
These masks had dense multi-layer filters that kept scientists working on the atomic bomb from breathing in stray radioactive particles.
Today, even with all the innovation we have seen over the last several decades, HEPA filters remain the gold standard in air filtration.
HEPA filters work to remove solid particles as small as 1/100th the size of a single hair on your head.
This is important because lighter SARS-CoV-2 airborne droplets can cling to tiny solids and enter ventilation systems to travel longer distances.
When a HEPA filter traps these tiny solids, it traps the infectious droplets attached to them.
Several types of HEPA filtration systems are available for use in both central ducted spaces and non-ducted spaces.
Purify Your Air with Ultraviolet Light
Ultraviolet light is getting its day in the sun (so to speak) for its powerful impact on airborne liquids or gases, including infectious SARS-CoV-2 droplets.
UV-C light is sufficiently powerful to damage the protective membrane that surrounds each coronavirus droplet. When this membrane gets damaged, the RNA contained within cannot replicate to infect more people.
There are several ways to use UV-C air purifiers to purify the air for both central ducted HVAC systems and non-ducted spaces.
Have Your HVAC Air Duct System Professionally Cleaned
An indoor air duct cleaning is like hitting the "reset" button on your indoor air quality.
This type of deep professional-grade cleaning goes into your air ducts and removes all trapped toxins, whether solid (particulate), liquid or gaseous.
The service cleans out the ducts using a powerful negative pressure vacuum and then follows that up with a deodorizing and sanitizing treatment.
If anyone in your family is in the high-risk category for vulnerability to COVID-19, having a professional indoor air duct cleaning offers an extra layer of protection.
When the indoor air you are breathing is cleaner, your immune system doesn’t have to work so hard to combat other airborne threats that could inadvertently lower your resistance to COVID-19.
If you are looking for indoor air duct cleaning in Hamilton, Ontario or the surrounding areas (including Brantford, Burlington, Oakville etc.), contact us at Clean Air Solutions in Hamilton today!
Contact Clean Air Solutions Hamilton
We remain open to serve you safely with multiple contact-less options during this difficult time.
Right now and through June 30, 2020, get a 10 percent discount off of any of our three popular indoor air duct cleaning packages.
You Asked & We Answer: Questions About Indoor Air Quality and COVID-19
Indoor air quality has been an essential service right from the start of our quarantine process, due to the new novel coronavirus.
As more researchers begin to contribute research data concerning the link between indoor air quality and coronavirus cases, Clean Air Solutions is learning new valuable information to pass along to our customers every single day.
Many of you have been contacting us by phone or email to ask about hot topics like air duct cleaning, indoor air ventilation, humidifiers, ultraviolet air purifiers and HEPA filters.
In this post, we answer the top questions we have been receiving about using these types of indoor air quality aids to prevent COVID-19.
Can Indoor Air Ventilation Systems Put You At Risk Of Catching Coronavirus?
On this topic, there is still new research coming in on a daily basis, however, the most compelling data we have comes not from this current outbreak, but from back in 2003 when the original SARS virus (SARS-CoV-1) outbreak occurred.
Researchers at the University of Toronto claim that wind (air flow from ventilation) is a critical factor in increasing what they call propagation, or the number of people the virus can reach.
Can Poor Air Quality and Air Pollution Make You Sicker Quicker?
We can credit the same research study for understanding the link between prior exposure to poor air quality and air pollution (whether outdoor or indoor) and vulnerability to COVID-19.
Research in 2003 only focused on people who had prior exposure to polluted air and the likelihood that they would contract coronavirus.
The data showed that people who had been breathing polluted air were more likely to catch SARS and get sicker when they did.
What Roles Do Heat and Humidity Play in Coronavirus Risk?
Many of our Clean Air Solutions customers call us with questions because they have been reading news or research papers on their own and have discovered information that causes worry.
We understand completely and are here to help!
One of the least well understood pieces of data right now is the link (if any) between the risk of coronavirus and the heat and/or humidity that comes with summer.
It’s important to note that the answer to this question can vary based on whether we are looking at heat versus humidity.
Is temperature (heat) linked to COVID-19 risk?
In the matter of whether increased temperature can reduce the risk of COVID-19, the latest data says “no.”
In an article published just last month in Science Daily, Canadian researchers studied 144 geographic areas around the world to look for links between temperature and latitude and the spread of COVID-19.
They didn’t find any.
This is particularly important to know if your summer plans include switching off your air conditioner to try to protect yourself from the new novel coronavirus. It won’t help and could actually harm you in other ways by increasing the risk of mould and mildew.
In fact, as we struggle with an unexpected heat wave here in Ontario, you may have even noticed that certain public facilities with air conditioning such as libraries and recreation centres have been reopened to help Ontarians cope with the heat.
Is humidity linked to COVID-19 risk?
In the same Canadian study, researchers did discover a slight link between increased humidity and decreased coronavirus transmission or spread.
So, increasing the humidity inside your home may, to some degree, give you more protection against coronavirus.
This is mostly because humidity keeps your respiratory passages moist in order to promote beneficial mucous that can trap coronavirus droplets and keep them from moving into your lungs.
This is the same reason why doctors often tell people with respiratory issues (ie. asthma, allergies etc.) to add more humidity to their indoor air in winter – it helps protect against cold and flu season, as well as seasonal allergies.
Will This Heat Wave Make Coronavirus Go Away?
Speaking of heat waves, there has been intense public debate among frontline healthcare workers and researchers about whether summer will reduce the risk of COVID-19.
Unfortunately, the most recent data indicates that the answer to this question is “no.”
In fact, the extreme heat may create health issues that conflict with the order to wear masks when out in public. Experts say wearing a mask can make it more difficult for you to breathe.
Wearing masks in the heat can also increase sweat and dampness, which decreases the mask’s ability to filter the air you breathe in or out.
The guidance is now to wear masks when you are indoors but to remove them when you are walking about or exercising out of doors. This is especially vital for children and the elderly, as well as for any person who has any type of respiratory or breathing condition.
Can Ultraviolet Light Or a HEPA Filter Destroy Coronavirus?
Another question we get asked on a daily basis is about the connection between ultraviolet light or HEPA filtration and coronavirus.
Both UV light and HEPA filters are standard today in hospitals and laboratories, but can they actually keep you from getting COVID-19?
UV Light and Coronavirus
If someone sneezes right on you or you touch a surface that contains active coronavirus particles, UV light or HEPA filters won’t actually help; however, if someone sneezes into the air and that air first passes through an ultraviolet light purifier, the UV light can potentially protect anyone who encounters those droplets.
HEPA Filters and Coronavirus
HEPA filters can’t protect you so directly, but when lighter airborne droplets latch on to solid particles like dust or ash, and then those particles pass through a HEPA filter, they will likely get trapped and won’t be able to reach you.
Get in Touch
We are open to serve you safely with contact-less options during this difficult time.
For our customers who want to schedule an indoor air duct cleaning, we are currently offering a 10 percent discount across the board for any of our three packages!
With this package, our technician will clean, deodorize and sanitize your air ducts of all contamination.
With this package, our technician will provide everything in the Bronze Package plus cleaning the A/C coil and fan compartment.
With this package, our technician will provide everything in the Bronze and Silver Packages plus a 21-point furnace inspection and maintenance.
As an essential service during the COVID-19 pandemic, Clean Air Solutions Hamilton remains open to serve our customers safely during this difficult time. We always ensure the safety of both technicians and our customers by practicing all safety precautions and contact-less processes. Our team is ready to provide you with the heating and cooling system(s) you need in Kingston, London, Hamilton, Burlington and the surrounding areas!