Good ventilation practices important in COVID-19 fight

Updated: Aug. 10, 2020 at 9:33 PM CDT
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NEW ORLEANS, La. (WVUE) - Distancing and mask wearing are the top Covid mitigation methods, but better indoor air quality may help as well especially with kids returning to classrooms. FOX 8 looked at what role good ventilation might play in minimizing Covid infections.

Some lessons learned during another threat could help limit the spread of Covid-19 now. Dr. William Bahnfleth is a mechanical engineer and professor at Penn State. He’s studied indoor air quality for nearly 30 years. He said, “I actually got very involved in the anthrax bioterrorism response nearly twenty years ago. A lot of things that we are doing now are very similar.”

In the spring the American Society of Heating, Refrigerating and Air-conditioning Engineers (ASHRAE) asked him to lead a task force to make recommendations for best practices in the industry.

Bahnfleth said, “The risk of an infection is proportional to how many of those active viruses you inhale so the fewer of them there are in a unit of air or in a breath the longer it’s going to take for you to inhale enough of them to have a high risk of infection.”

Building codes require a minimum of outdoor air be pulled in through air conditioning systems, but according to Bahnfleth more is better. He said, “Some systems are designed only to provide the minimum amount required by the ventilation code and others or different types of systems can increase by many times the amount of outside air.”

If systems don’t have that capability, he said there are other options to increase air flow. According to Bahnfleth, “Opening windows will help, putting fans in windows will help to make sure the air is moving between the inside and the outside of the building.”

Another alternative are portable HEPA filters. He said, “With ventilation it takes air that is in the space and contaminated and replaces it with air from outside that has no viruses in them and filters remove the particles from the air that may have viruses in them so in a way they are doing the same thing just by a different method.”

Bahnfleth pointed out another issue in schools. He said, “If you are in the kind of environment where you have one group come in and they leave, and another group comes in the time in between is something worth thinking about.”

He said allowing more time for airflow and filters to clear the air between groups can have benefits.

FOX 8 reached out to school systems across the area to find out about their ventilation plan. Orleans Parish’s road map calls for windows to be opened to the greatest extent.

A representative from Jefferson Parish said windows would remain closed for security and that the air conditioning systems provided sufficient air exchange.

St. Bernard Parish schools also said they have all newer HVAC systems post Hurricane Katrina that allow for increased outdoor airflow.

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