KALAMAZOO, Mich. — The coronavirus disease 2019 pandemic was changing the way the public thinks about indoor air quality and ventilation.
Experts in indoor air quality and in heating, ventilation and air conditioning (HVAC) systems have known for many years the importance of proper filtration and air flow in creating good quality indoor air. Because of the COVID-19 pandemic, more people in the general public were looking for ways to avoid transmitting and contracting COVID-19.
Cold, winter weather could make avoiding COVID-19 more difficult for people living in West Michigan. Understanding more about HVAC systems and how virus could be spread indoors could help.
"The colder it gets outside, the more you have to return air from inside the building in order to condition it," Susan Lindemann, Kalamazoo College's Facilities Management director and chief sustainability officer, said.
Humidity and dryness in the air are a concern in the winter, according to Lindemann.
"The colder and dryer it gets outside, the more difficult it is for the equipment to do what it needs to do and that's why coming inside a pose is more of a risk to us," Lindemann said.
Researchers at the Environmental Protection Agency said there was growing evidence that COVID-19 could remain airborne for longer times and further distances than originally thought. In addition to close contact with infected people and contaminated surfaces, there was a possibility that spread of COVID-19 could also occur via airborne particles in indoor environments.
The American Society of Heating, Refrigerating and Air-conditioning Engineers, a global authority on HVAC systems, said in a recent report that ventilation and filtration from HVAC systems could reduce how much COVID-19 is in the air and could reduce its transmission through the air.
But experts said while proper ventilation and good indoor air quality were crucial components in staying healthy, no matter how great an HVAC system is, human behavior inside the space still played a large role.
"What do you need to be most concerned about is what you're doing in the space-- being protected by wearing a mask; because inside the space with others inside the space is when you're at greatest risk," Lindemann said.
Michael Pinto, an indoor air quality expert and CEO of Wonder Makers Environmental in Kalamazoo, said ventilation wouldn't make up for human error.
"Everything has to work together," Pinto said. "I can put the best filtration media on a heating system in a school, for example, and if there's no control over the children and they're sitting too close, they're not wearing masks or not washing their hands or not cleaning the surfaces; if we're not going to follow any of those rules you can't just assume that the air handling system is somehow going to make that all magically better."
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