As the pandemic enters a new phase in the United States, marked by fewer precautionary measures and the rise of the even more transmissible omicron subvariant BA.2, the Biden administration has begun to emphasize the importance of mitigating the risk of aerosol transmission in Indoors, the main driver of, to emphasize the pandemic.
The Environmental Protection Agency recently released expert guidance for building managers, contractors and business owners, with two pages of recommendations codifying ventilation, air filtration and air sanitation best practices from academic experts and federal agencies over the past two years. The agency said the implementation could be signed with federal funds from America’s $1.9 trillion bailout plan signed by President Biden a year ago.
Alondra Nelson, head of the White House Office of Science and Technology Policy, said last week that the guidance is part of an initiative called the Clean Air in Buildings Challenge. Citing the guidance in a blog post titled “Let’s Clear the Air on Covid,” she said: “Now we all need to work together to make our friends, family, neighbors and colleagues aware of what we can do or ask about.” to make indoor gatherings safer.”
“For decades, Americans have demanded clean water flowing out of our faucets and pollution limits for our smokestacks and tailpipes,” wrote Dr. Nelson in the mail. “It is time that healthy and clean indoor air became an expectation for all of us.”
US federal health officials were initially hesitant to identify airborne transmission of the virus. It wasn’t until October 2020 that the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention recognized that the virus can sometimes be airborne, long after many infectious disease experts had warned that the coronavirus traveled in small, airborne particles. Scientists have been calling for a greater focus on combating this risk for more than a year.
The initiative is “really a big deal,” said William Bahnfleth, a professor of civil engineering at Pennsylvania State University and head of the Epidemic Task Force at the American Society of Heating, Refrigerating and Air-Conditioning Engineers. “The beginning is often the hardest part.”
Dating back to the early days of skyscrapers in the late 1800s, the Society is a global non-profit technical society that develops, among other things, the consensus standards for indoor air quality specified in US building codes.
The task force of Dr. Bahnfleth was formed just as the pandemic was beginning to grip the world in March 2020, and the new federal recommendations align closely with its guidance. He said the pandemic has given impetus to a long-overdue effort to improve the country’s “moderate” building air quality standards, noting that existing standards have failed to protect people from coronavirus infections.
Viruses can spread in different ways. At the start of the pandemic, health officials believed that the coronavirus was mainly transmitted through droplets expelled by coughing or sneezing, as is the case with the flu, or possibly by contact with contaminated surfaces. However, many scientists noted mounting evidence that the coronavirus was airborne, spreading in tiny particles indoors.
Similar to the rating system for high-quality masks, whose high-tech filter material retains at least 94 to 95 percent of the most dangerous particles (N95, KN95 and KF94), the filters used in building ventilation systems have a so-called A MERV rating. The higher the rating, which ranges from 1 to 16, the better the filter captures particles.
The new federal guidelines recommend buildings upgrade to at least a MERV 13 filter that captures 85 percent or more of hazardous particulates. Before the pandemic, many buildings used MERV-8 filters, which are not designed for infection control.
Long before the pandemic, studies showed that indoor air quality affects the health of students and workers. A Harvard study of more than 3,000 workers showed that sick leave increased by 53 percent among employees in poorly ventilated areas. Improved ventilation has also been linked to better test scores and less absenteeism from school.
“Improving indoor air has benefits that go beyond Covid-19,” wrote Dr. Nelson. “It will reduce the risk of catching the flu, cold or other airborne diseases and lead to better overall health outcomes.”
March 27, 2022
Due to an editing error, an earlier version of this article misrepresented the amount of America’s bailout plan signed by President Biden last year. It was $1.9 trillion, not $1.9 billion.