COVID in Context

How Can Building Operators Protect Public Health?

Let’s face it, safely reopening buildings is going to be a challenge. Both occupants and building owners are anxious that their spaces are clean, healthy, and risk free. There are many proven practices that, when implemented into systems correctly, reduce the overall likelihood of occupants coming into contact with pathogens in buildings.  Design and behavior reinforce each other; below are effective and easily implementable strategies that support both.

Enhanced Sanitization

  • Cleaning and sanitizing are two different things. Cleaning helps remove visible dirt, grime, and particulates. Sanitization works on the invisible, destroying microorganisms and pathogens.
  • Properly sanitize surfaces with an EPA approved disinfectant. Leave surfaces wet longer than you normally may before wiping to ensure disinfectant takes full effect.
  • Increase the frequency of times regularly touched surfaces are disinfected. Building owners that provide occupants with adequate disinfectant can task them with cleaning their own spaces.

Minimize Contact

  • Architects have been designing for spatial efficiency and optimizing occupancy for decades.  Given the current situation, spaces will need to be reworked and redesigned to accommodate a six-foot social distancing policy. We must retool our thinking from density to separation.
  • Move and adjust personal space to ensure all people can remain six-feet apart while going about their business. Provide markings in regularly occupied areas that can provide a visual representation for social distancing.
  • Consider enhancing work from home, delivery, and pickup policies. Provide tools, technology, and support to aid during any times of transition.

Filtration & Diffusion

  • MERV rated filters certainly help capture microorganisms, reducing the overall likelihood of contact with occupants. Ventilation systems, however, contain vast amounts of variables that make scrubbing out every particle difficult.
  • To further reduce the overall probability of occupants coming into contact with pathogens, increase the amount of outdoor air brought into the space. Increasing the overall diffusion rate with fresh air vastly reduces the likelihood of occupants coming into contact with airborne pathogens.

Our anxiety around sharing space with other people during this pandemic highlights the fact that too many of our buildings are not designed or operated to protect us from invisible threats to our health. As a society, we must now deploy the tools we have to keep each other safe from life-threatening illness: frameworks like WELL and LEED have laid a foundation for this, and we can now normalize these practices. Building owners and operators can be heroes by helping to create public spaces where everybody can live, work, shop, eat, study, and access care with reduced risk of infection.

Contributing Authors: Nick Rubenstein and Marc Mondor

Evolve EA