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Stay Safe At Home - COVID-19 & Airborne HVAC Transmission
To say the international think tank of HVAC experts is divided on the topic of whether coronavirus can be transmitted by air is perhaps the understatement of the century.
Some say “yes, absolutely”. Some say “no way”. Some say “maybe” and only time and further research will break the tie.
If there is one thing we have learned, however, in our nearly a century to date of serving your air conditioning, heating and air quality needs, it is this: always err on the side of caution.
In other words, you can never be too careful - especially when it comes to the deadliest virus to sweep across our planet in the last several decades.
So in this post, we are going to summarize what each side says in the debate and what we recommend if you want to be extra-careful to avoid airborne exposure to COVID-19.
WHO Versus Nature: The Great Debate
Organizations around the world are hard at work studying how the new novel coronavirus, SARS-CoV-2, does what it does.
As you will quickly notice, some of these organizations are less reluctant than others to issue sweeping pronouncements about what this virus can and cannot do.
Overwhelmingly, the data and the general sentiment in the public and private scientific community is shifting towards a confirmation that COVID-19 can spread at longer distances via aerosol airborne transmission.
The World Health Organization (WHO)
On the topic of whether COVID-19 is airborne or not, WHO can’t seem to even agree to disagree. As CTV News recently reported, WHO has issued two official (and contradictory) positions:
COVID-19 may be airborne in some circumstances.
COVID-19 is not airborne.
National Academy of Sciences (PNAS-USA)
PNAS recently published a paper stating that the risk of airborne transmission is “non-zero.” This is science-speak for “there is a risk of aerosol/airborne transmission.”
Queensland University of Technology
A recent article in the respected journal Nature included a statement from an Australian scientist that is refreshingly direct (and scary).
The scientist, Lidia Morawska, said that scientists absolutely believe COVID-19 is capable of spreading through the air.
Another research study published by Nature indicated that tiny airborne SARS-CoV-2 aerosol particles were found circulating at a Wuhan, China, hospital where patients were being treated for COVID-19 – this even after the particles had passed through HVAC air filters!
The University of Alberta
Right here in Canada, a team of researchers at the University of Alberta have just received nearly half a million dollars in research funding to study how – not if – COVID-19 moves through the air.
Their research goal? To identify ways to update HVAC design in order to reduce the risk of transmission.
Multi-Unit Buildings May Be At Higher Risk of Airborne Transmission
Because the initial COVID-19 outbreak (in Wuhan, China) occurred in a restaurant that occupied five stories, researchers now understand that the pattern of infection simply cannot be explained by lack of social distancing alone.
Some degree of aerosol airborne transmission through the restaurant’s HVAC ventilation appears to be the only explanation for which diners were later diagnosed with COVID-19.
In another CTV News piece, an infectious diseases doctor at the University of Toronto, Dr. Abdu Sharkawy, explained that the risk of encountering airborne aerosol droplets in a multi-unit building is tiered.
- The smaller the multi-unit dwelling or work space (in terms of number of floors and HVAC connections) the higher the risk of aerosol airborne transmission.
- Occupants or workers in high-rise-type multi-unit buildings may have a reduced risk if an infected person is separated from non-infected persons by several floors.
- Airborne transmission may occur in several ways: through central HVAC ventilation, through plumbing and sewage pipes and exhaust fans, through open windows with shared air streams, and through ventilation flowing through common areas.
How Can You Protect Yourself From HVAC Transmission?
Despite the increasing volume of evidence pointing to aerosol airborne transmission of the new novel coronavirus, right now researchers are still in the data-gathering phase.
So, for now, what we have is more information about possible risk factors, but not much more information about additional protection.
For this reason, here is what we are recommending to our customers who have called/emailed asking for guidance about HVAC safety.
Recommendations For HVAC Safety
1. Continue being careful about where you go, who you see and what activities you choose to do.
Stay out of multi-level buildings whenever possible. Avoid socializing indoors or at close quarters with others. Wear your mask and wash your hands vigilantly.
2. Upgrade your home indoor air quality as your means permits.
Our sister company, Clean Air Solutions Hamilton, is working with many of our customers to add ultraviolet purification, HEPA filtration, heat recovery ventilation and humidification for extra protection against airborne transmission.
3. Run your air conditioner or furnace in “all fresh air” mode.
This naturally increases the amount of fresh air being added inside your space.
4. Use floor fans and open windows to create negative air pressure.
If a loved one has COVID-19 symptoms and is self-isolating inside your home, you can open a window in that room and place a fan next to it, with the fan pointing out the open window. This creates negative air pressure. The room still gets incoming fresh air but air inside the room cannot escape.
If someone in your family is immuno-compromised and is self-isolating, you can reverse this: open a window and point the fan so it blows into the room they are in. This creates positive air pressure. Air already inside the room can escape but air outside the room cannot get in.
Get in Touch
HVAC, electrical and plumbing have all been deemed essential services during the stay at home order here in Ontario. Do you need to upgrade your HVAC service in order to ensure your safety at home during COVID-19? Shipton’s Heating and Cooling Ltd. has the highest quality products, fast response and reliable service. Our team of technicians can consult you on the best possible HVAC system, install the system and ensure that it is properly maintained - even throughout COVID-19!