1) The airborne transmission of COVID-19 is considered “sufficiently likely. 

ASHRAE recently released a statement on the airborne transmission of COVID-19, stating: 

“Transmission of SARS-CoV-2 through the air is sufficiently likely that airborne exposure to the virus should be controlled. Changes to building operations, including the operation of heating, ventilating, and air-conditioning systems, can reduce airborne exposures.” 

If you read our update on the transmission of COVID-19, then you may be familiar with the statement made by the World Health Organization (WHO) just 30 days ago. This statement suggests that airborne transmission is not a viable mode of transportation for this virus. Their statements contend that there is insufficient evidence to suggest airborne transmission, but the possibility of airborne contamination in specific circumstances requiring the use of aerosols is likely. The WHO has not updated their stance on this since March 30th, 2020.  

What this means: Just because COVID-19 has not been identified as an “airborne infectious disease” per technical definitions, does not mean that ventilation and filtration efforts cannot be effective in reducing the concentration of airborne COVID-19. Some studies have shown that COVID-19 can travel up to 27 feet within gaseous clouds produced by coughs and sneezes, while other preliminary research has provided evidence of COVID-19 infecting particulate matter in the air. Given this information, it appears inaccurate, and borderline dangerous, to assume that changes to building operations and HVAC management would not be an effective allocation of time and effort to protect building occupants. 

2) Air pollution may increase the deadliness of COVID-19. 

In a study done by the Harvard T.H. School of Public Health, researchers found that an increase of just 1 μg/m3 in PM2.5 is associated with an 8% increase in the COVID-19 death rate.  

The study analyzed death counts from over 3,000 counties in the United States through April 22nd, 2020, representing 98% of the population. The analysis was adjusted by 20 potential confounding factors including population size, age distribution, population density, time since the beginning of the outbreak, and more. 

The recorded conclusions state:

“A small increase in long-term exposure to PM2.5 leads to a large increase in the COVID-19 death rate. Despite inherent limitations of the ecological study design, our results underscore the importance of continuing to enforce existing air pollution regulations to protect human health both during and after the COVID-19 crisis.” 

What this means: Prolonged exposure to air pollution very well seems to increase the likelihood of death caused by COVID-19. It appears that efforts regarding the mitigation of air pollution both outdoors and indoors should be prioritized to protect building occupants.  

3) COVID-19 may be able to infect particulate matter in the air. 

Although there is only preliminary evidence regarding the contamination of COVID-19 in particulate matter, there seems to be a growing trend in conducting research on this topic.  

Leanardo Setti, who led this research, suggests that the higher levels of particle pollution could explain higher rates of infection in parts of northern Italy. 

The analysis was conducted on 34 PM10 samples of outdoor and airborne PM10 from an industrial site of Bergamo Province.  Two different air samples were taken over a continuous 3-weeks period, from February 21st to March 13th. Their results confirm that they have reasonably demonstrated the presence of SARS-CoV-2 viral RNA by detecting highly specific RtDR gene on 8 filters in two parallel PCR analyses.  

“This is the first preliminary evidence that SARS-CoV-2 RNA can be present on outdoor particulate matter, thus suggesting that, in conditions of atmospheric stability and high concentrations of PM, SARS-CoV-2 could create clusters with outdoor PM and, by reducing their diffusion coefficient, enhance the persistence of the virus in the atmosphere.” – Setti et al.  

What this means: Although this is preliminary evidence, and further research needs to be conducted to legitimize these claims, it seems that scientists understand the importance of studying the link between COVID-19 and air pollution. Our recommendation is to consider all potential modes of transmission of this disease, and take the necessary precautions to reduce the concentration of air pollution in your facility.  

4) Ventilation and filtration efforts can reduce the airborne concentration of COVID-19.  

ASHRAE’s statement on operation of heating, ventilating, and air-conditioning systems to reduce SARS-CoV-2/COVID-19 transmission: 

“Ventilation and filtration provided by heating, ventilating, and air-conditioning systems can reduce the airborne concentration of SARS-CoV-2 and thus the risk of transmission through the air. Unconditioned spaces can cause thermal stress to people that may be directly life threatening and that may also lower resistance to infection. In general, disabling of heating, ventilating, and air-conditioning systems is not a recommended measure to reduce the transmission of the virus.” 

What this means: As previously noted, the WHO has held its stance on the idea that sufficient evidence has not yet been obtained to suggest airborne transmission of COVID-19. However, ASHRAE is a storied organization with over 100 years of dedication to providing the most accurate information available for heating, ventilation, and air conditioning efforts. Our recommendation is to consider any guidelines this organization sets forth. 

5) The global pandemic led to a drastic decrease in outdoor air pollution. 

Amid the global crisis that COVID-19 has brought to life, comes one shimmering gleam of hope. Stay-at-home ordinances, social distancing, and remote work has brought an onset of pollution reduction across the globe.  

An analysis was conducted on ten major cities across the globe, possessing historically high levels of air pollution and relatively high numbers of COVID-19 cases. 

The study compared levels of PM 2.5, which is particularly dangerous as it can be inhaled deep into the lungs and pass into other organs and the bloodstream, causing serious health risks. 

The results of the study showed that seven out of the 10 cities studied, including New Delhi, Seoul, Wuhan and Mumbai, saw significant improvements in air quality. Those with historically higher levels of PM2.5 pollution witnessed the most substantial drops in pollution. 

What this means: From the apparent disaster that COVID-19 has caused globally, comes (hopefully) a new outlook on the severity of air pollution and its effects on human health. Over 90% of the world’s population breathes dangerously polluted air, and there are millions of deaths recorded each year due to air pollution. At qlair, our mission remains the same: to ensure that buildings are equipped with the technology and services they need to create a healthy, productive, and safe indoor environment for their occupants.  

Looking to ensure the health and safety of your indoor air before reopening to the public? Tell us a little about your situation and we will be in contact momentarily.