‘As important as vaccination’ – is it time we addressed poor ventilation in the fight against COVID-19?

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Australia’s building standards may be overhauled to address airborne spread and employers could be held accountable for outbreaks caused by poor ventilation, a Sunday Age article reports.

State governments, employers and unions have entered talks on a code of practice that would force employers to protect workers from airborne transmission of COVID-19, report Paul Sakkal and Aisha Dow in The Sunday Age.

The reporters also learned that the Australian Building Codes Board is moving to create rules that would ensure new buildings have ventilation and filtration features that minimise indoor circulation of pathogens. The Board is in discussion with experts and industry groups about incorporating a ventilation checklist into the National Construction Code, which does not currently include infectious diseases in its ventilation rules.

The World Health Organisation (WHO) was late to acknowledge the airborne spread of COVID-19. In fact it only did so this year, points out Anastasia Tsirtsakis in newsGP, a publication of the Royal Australian College of General Practitioners. Today it is widely accepted that aerosols play a significant role in spreading the virus.

In its updated ‘How is it transmitted?’ page, the WHO says, “The virus can also spread in poorly ventilated and/or crowded indoor settings, where people tend to spend longer periods of time. This is because aerosols remain suspended in the air or travel farther than one metre.”

Former Victorian Premier Ted Baillieu is a trained architect and has been rallying governments to appoint a national ventilation taskforce. “In managing transmission, this is as important as vaccination,” he tells Sakkal and Dow.

Australia has “some of the leakiest buildings in the world,” Australian Institute of Refrigeration, Air Conditioning and Heating chief executive Tony Gleeson tells The Age. Gleeson says improving air tightness would prevent airborne pathogens moving between rooms and floors.

Consumer research from Researchify, commissioned by Rentokil Initial, finds that 83 percent of Australians believe businesses have a responsibility to protect customers against health and hygiene risks. Furthermore, 77 percent believe protection against airborne transmission is crucial in the return to normal and 64 percent are more likely to visit an indoor venue that has air hygiene protocols in place.

Professor Geoff Hanmer, Member of the International Code Council NEHA (the US’ National Environmental Health Association) Pandemic Taskforce, is keen to see air purifiers used in institutional settings. “The right air purifiers can be an effective means of reducing the risk of SARS-CoV-2 transmission, but they must be carefully selected, vetted and located to deliver best performance and ensure they meet minimum safety requirements,” he says. “A HEPA filter is the absolute minimum required.”

Photo by Mira Kireeva on Unsplash

 

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