Univerity At Buffalo – UB Now: EH&S Experts Address Employee HVAC Concerns
July 28, 2021
COVID-19 UPDATES • 7/8-2021
Returning to the office after a year of absence amid the pandemic is not without lingering questions about health and safety.
So, Joseph Raab, UB’s Director of Environment, Health and Safety, and Biosafety Officer David Pawlowski have been doing the rounds on campus to help answer these employee questions.
“One of the most common questions we get is that employees ask questions about ventilation at UB and what we do about ventilation,” says Raab.
According to guidelines from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, there’s still a lot scientists haven’t identified about COVID-19 and ventilation. However, the CDC states that “although airflow in a particular space may help spread disease among people in that space, there is no definitive evidence to date that a viable virus has been transmitted through an HVAC system to result in transmission.” of diseases to people in other areas served by the same system.”
To reduce the risk, the CDC recommends modifying HVAC systems to increase the supply of fresh air into buildings, extending HVAC run times and upgrading filters where possible — all steps UB has taken in recent months. .
“Increasing the run time and the amount of fresh air is something we’ve done in many buildings on campus,” says Raab. “In some UB buildings, the university has upgraded filters in situations where airflow was not sacrificed. However, many of the UB’s systems still use the filters that were the standard before the pandemic.
“If we chose a higher quality filter, in many cases we would not be able to provide sufficient airflow or properly condition the air in the building,” he says. “Reducing airflow would conflict with CDC recommendations. Also, conditions could be very uncomfortable because the stagnant air would become too hot and humid in the summer or too cold in the winter.”
Raab and Pawlowski point out that the CDC recommends a layered approach to avoid exposure to the virus. The UB Environment, Health and Safety team fears that too much focus on air filtration could be at the expense of the important problem of airflow in a room. Compared to the onset of the pandemic, the CDC and industry experts are emphasizing the need for airflow in buildings rather than just focusing on filtration. In many cases, increasing the filtration will decrease the airflow.
In addition to ventilation improvements, the layered approach includes physical distancing where practical, wearing face masks, hand hygiene and vaccination. For unvaccinated people and those taking certain immunocompromising drugs, “the most important thing you can do indoors is to continue to use the basic precautions used during the pandemic, especially face coverings,” Raab says.
“We have adjusted ventilation in line with CDC guidelines,” he notes, “but overall, masking will be more effective than any changes to ventilation, where the systems were already effective before the pandemic.”
Raab and Pawlowski remind workers concerned about returning to campus that vaccine coverage is high in western New York. In fact, more than 70% of people in Western New York ages 18 and older have at least one dose of vaccine. The latest data shows that vaccination is the best way to significantly reduce the risk of infection with COVID-19, including the delta variant, and that vaccination is highly effective in protecting people from serious diseases.
Here’s what else Raab has to say:
CDC Recommendations for Work: The CDC states that fully vaccinated people “can resume their pre-pandemic activities.”
The CDC’s return to work guidelines on cleanliness, ventilation, and other precautions are, for the most part, guidelines for unvaccinated people. So vaccinated people can generally return to the workplace as they did before the pandemic, but unvaccinated people will need to take a few extra precautions, such as wearing face coverings and participating in mandatory weekly COVID-19 testing. UB’s Updated Return to Campus Health Guidelines Posted here.
Workplace surfaces: In the middle of the pandemic, the CDC reported that the risk of infection from touching a surface is low. This particular disease, COVID-19, does not spread easily from surfaces like some other diseases. The most reliable way to prevent surface infection is to wash hands thoroughly with soap and water. In situations where hand washing is not readily available, CDC recommends using hand sanitizer.
Cleaning versus disinfecting: The difference between cleaning and disinfection is that cleaning basically uses a product containing soap or detergent to reduce germs on surfaces by removing contaminants and reducing the risk of infection. Disinfecting actually kills the remaining germs on the surfaces, further reducing the risk.
As they have done during the pandemic, the cleaning staff of the UB will expand cleaning with the disinfection of high-touch surfaces. These are things like doorknobs, shared workspaces, and similar surfaces. The cleaners will still regularly clean and disinfect the toilets as you would normally expect.
Common areas in the workplace: Practice good hand hygiene before and after using shared work areas and commonly used items. Basically, before you touch the copier, have a small container of hand sanitizer. Use the hand sanitiser before touching the controls; grab your copies and then use another round of hand sanitizer.
It is similar to a kitchenette except with hand washing. Wash your hands, prepare your lunch, put your food in the microwave. Then take it out of the microwave, grab your plate and wash your hands again before eating.
“I think just those simple things can really reduce the risk of germs on surfaces from multiple users,” says Raab.
This press release was produced by the University at Buffalo – UB Now. The opinions expressed here are those of the author.