Salus journal

Healthy Planet. Healthy People.

Professional Bodies / Public health

Five strategies to optimise buildings for Coronavirus prevention

By Andrew Sansom 13 Mar 2020 0

Operator of the Fitwel healthy building rating system the Center for Active Design in the United States says it has identified evidence-based design and operational strategies that specifically fight the transmission of viruses, including the Coronavirus.

Information and guidance about Coronavirus has, understandably, focused on immediate precaution, prevention and mitigation methods. While this information is vital to controlling the spread of COVID-19 and protecting the most vulnerable populations, one area that has been under-reported is the role that building design and operations can play in controlling the spread of this disease.

As COVID-19 spreads, the connection between health and our environment becomes increasingly clear. In addition to everyday precautions taken by individuals, the building industry and employers, says the Center for Active Design, have a vital role to play in creating safe environments for themselves and their employees.

While there is still much that is unknown about this virus, the Center highlights some immediate preventive steps those working across the property and built environment industry can take to reduce the risk of infection. These include:

  1. Post-educational handwashing signage – health officials recommend washing hands often with soap and water for at least 20 seconds. Despite being a relatively light-lift strategy in Fitwel, the Center's analysis carried out in July 2019 found that only 40 per cent of Fitwel-certified projects integrated handwashing signs into their spaces, demonstrating a clear opportunity for improvement.
  2. Strengthen cleaning protocols: Adjusting cleaning protocols to meet the demands of the current situation is another valid approach. Increase cleaning frequency, replenish cleaning supplies ahead of time, and ensure that bathrooms stay stocked with hand soap, hand sanitiser, paper towels, and tissues.
  3. Increase ventilation: While recirculating air has become the default in our buildings, ventilating with outdoor air is vital to diluting airborne contaminants and decreasing disease transmission rates. For buildings without heating and ventilation systems, another option is simply to open windows to let in more outdoor air.
  4. Maintain optimal humidity: Evidence suggests that viruses survive better in low-humidity environments. Buildings can increase humidity via heating and ventilation systems to maintain an optimal range of 40 to 60 per cent, or by purchasing and installing portable humidifiers throughout.
  5. Filter indoor air. This preventive measure may take more time to implement, but it can help property managers, architects and engineers plan for the future. Atmos Air, which contributed to the development of Fitwel’s air quality strategies, has developed technology designed to sanitise air and surfaces through the release of bi-polar ions. Such ions: break down the protein surface of the virus so that it’s unable to infect individuals, even if ingested; cluster individual virus particles, forming larger, heavier particles that are more effectively trapped by air system filters or released to the floor where they’re removed from our breathing zone; and neutralise particle charges so that the virus cannot cling to surfaces.

COVID-19 has taken a major toll on global economies due to production halting, strained healthcare systems, supply chain disruptions, travel restrictions, workplace and school closures, and event cancellations. Taking measures to build a healthy environment is prudent to both preventing illness and preventing loss of productivity, says the Center.

Organisations involved