As we enter September, in one of the strangest years to date, COVID-19 has infiltrated nearly every facet of our everyday lives. When people leave their homes, it is normal to grab keys, cellphone, wallet and now a mask. For most, the changes have simply become the new routine. But one of the biggest disruptors caused by COVID-19 is in the return to campus for many college students. This results in colossal questions being asked, and one extremely important question:
How can we ensure the protection of our student-body, faculty and staff braving the return to college campuses across the globe?
Recently, the World Health Organization (WHO) released that “…current evidence suggests that COVID-19 spreads between people through direct, indirect (through contaminated objects or surfaces), or close contact with infected people via mouth and nose secretions. These are released from the mouth or nose when an infected person coughs, sneezes, speaks or sings, for example.” We recognize that the spread of COVID-19 is an Airborne illness and yet, if colleges are to re-open this fall as many already have, how can we protect the integrity of the open, constructive in-person dialogue that many classrooms thrive upon? The answer exists, partially, in making the environment on campus the healthiest for all, limiting the spread of COVID-19.
According to the WHO, many reported outbreaks of COVID-19 share their occurrence in “closed settings, such as restaurants, nightclubs, places of worship or places of work where people may be shouting, talking, or singing.” Additionally, the lack of social-distancing in practice and lack of mask wearing increased the rate of the spread and we’ve seen in many States bars and restaurants closing again to contain outbreaks. One of the most important things to pay attention to regarding these outbreaks and the future spread is this statement from the WHO,
“In these outbreaks, aerosol transmission, particularly in these indoor locations where there are crowded and inadequately ventilated spaces where infected persons spend long periods of time with others, cannot be ruled out.”The World Health Organization
Beyond wearing a mask, social distancing and lowering the capacity of contained spaces, the physical environment of the classroom and broader spaces can have a profound effect on the virus’ ability to spread. We acknowledge that this is one of the keys leading to the decreased spread of COVID-19 on the College Campuses, increasing the safety for all. In fact, we are currently working with esteemed universities to prepare their shared spaces for the return of activity on campus.
For years, our team has followed the gold star of industry standard guidelines from the American Society of Heating, Refrigerating and Air-Conditioning Engineers (ASHRAE) and other international equivalents in our work on campuses and beyond. ASHRAE published a report in April of 2020 to rebut some false statements regarding HVAC and also put out a full statement with guidelines regarding the optimal HVAC conditions to decrease the spread of COVID-19.
In their reports, ASHRAE specifically stated the following, “Transmission of SARS-CoV-2 through the air is sufficiently likely that airborne exposure to the virus should be controlled. Changes to building operations, including the operation of heating, ventilating, and air-conditioning systems, can reduce airborne exposures.” This is not only pivotal to the re-opening of college campuses but in all industries where offices are re-opening for example, busy sales floors at large corporations or call centers where many people are talking all day long in close quarters.
In relation to universities and colleges specifically, our team works with facilities teams to automate implementation of the guidelines set by ASHRAE’s Epidemic Task Force. The new guidelines for COVID-19 are vast and the automated implementation by Maestro allows for facilities teams to focus on non-COVID-19 related projects. While Maestro’s core remains to reduce operational and energy spend, our team is passionate about making the working environment as safe as possible for students, faculty and staff to return to this fall.