As the Indian economy gradually shakes off the ways of life that the Covid-19 lockdown necessitated, one of the key trends is a return to working out of office spaces. Industries have been pushing for this to offset the financial losses they incurred during lockdown, for which an all-hands-on-deck approach is necessary. Given that a cure for Covid-19 is yet to be found, having high-quality HVAC systems on office premises becomes essential to prevent the spread of the virus.
Air pollution in India has been consistently high for a while, with Indian cities frequently featured on WHO’s annual lists of the most polluted cities worldwide. The poor air quality is partly responsible for several respiratory diseases in patients of all ages, including tuberculosis, asthma, bronchitis and COPD. While the World Health Organization (WHO) and the Center for Disease Control (CDC) earlier regarded the airborne transmission of the novel coronavirus as only ‘sufficiently likely’, more recent data proves that airborne transmission is in fact significant and requires careful control. The effects of the virus can be exponentially higher in air that is already heavily polluted, as India’s is. Moreover, while the Indian government has taken strict measures to enforce the lockdown and practise social distancing, the sheer number of people makes it impossible to ensure complete compliance as can been seen with recent rise in numbers contributing to the second wave in several cities.
HVAC systems comprise heating, ventilation and air-conditioning, and most commercial spaces have central HVAC systems that control the temperature and quality of air throughout the premises. It is a common misconception that air-conditioning purifies the air it cools – on the contrary, air-conditioning units, particularly the centralised ones used in commercial spaces, can be breeding grounds for bacteria and viruses, including Coronavirus. Moreover, in a confined air-conditioned space, the droplets released when an infected person sneezes can travel much further and faster, putting other occupants of the space at greater risk. Poor ventilation and incomplete filtering of microparticles from the air also increase the risk of catching airborne diseases.
In response to the urgent need for a solution to indoor air pollution, the ISHRAE (Indian Society of Heating, Refrigerating and Air-conditioning Engineers), ASHRAE (American Society of Heating, Refrigerating and Air-conditioning Engineers) and the CDC (Centre for Disease Control) have released new guidelines for the design and operation of HVAC systems to reduce disease transmission from airborne particles. The key recommendations from these guidelines include:
- Checking that all HVAC equipment is up-to-date and fully functional, including upgrading the filters and ensuring that the ventilators can handle large enough air volumes
- Providing ventilation flushing throughout the premises at least two hours pre- and post-occupation (including opening the windows, running the exhaust fans and opening the air dampers outside)
- Running the HVAC system on minimum outside air when the building is unoccupied
- Establishing suitable cleaning protocols for high-contact areas of HVAC equipment, and automating the control of the equipment wherever possible
Another option is to add oxygen optimisers, which will have benefits beyond protection against the Covid- 19. Polluted air contains lower levels of oxygen, which causes fatigue and a lack of concentration in office employees. By restoring the balance of oxygen inside, employees can benefit from improved vitality and a boosted immune system that will enable them to handle the air pollution oudoors much better. Measures like these, along with regular temperature checks, sanitisation and disinfection of the premises, will go a long way in keeping office-goers safe in the new normal.
Air pollution has been a problem for several years, but it is only now amidst the Covid-19 pandemic that there is a renewed interest in finding solutions to it. Having modernised HVAC optimisation systems is crucial to ensuring that commercial spaces are safe to work in, and will help boost overall health and productivity in addition to guarding against the spread of the virus.