‘We have seen a large uptick’: Improved ventilation sought as added layer of pandemic protection

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WISC-TV / Channel3000.com

MADISON, Wis. – Beyond the well-known approaches to reducing COVID-19 spread such as mask-wearing and social distancing, another strategy is gaining traction in the area.

Dane County is investing more than half a million dollars to improve air quality in 20 county-owned buildings.

“The easiest first steps were to increase the amount of ventilation, but now the more research we did, we found that these systems are available and that gives us just that extra degree of safety,” Dane County Executive Joe Parisi said.

The improvements, which will be funded by $571,300 in American Rescue Plan money, include the use of ultraviolet air purification.

“This ultraviolet light system helps kill viruses and other entities in the air that can cause problems, and so this will be installed to be an even further purification method we can use to make sure that we’re keeping everyone safe,” Parisi said, adding that such improvements may be attractive to other spaces, as well.

“That’s one thing each business is going to have to look at,” Parisi said. “What system works best for them. This might be something that’s good for them. Some other way of addressing it might work well, too.”

“We live in that weird world now where pathogens are on the top of everyone’s mind,” said Jason Phillips, a project manager and estimator with the Madison-based company Harker Heating & Cooling.

Businesses have been going to HVAC companies such as Harker Heating & Cooling with more questions about ventilation improvements during the pandemic.

“From 2019, indoor air quality was one of those really low priorities for a lot of commercial properties,” Phillips said. “We have seen a large uptick, again with those companies wanting to protect employees and managing and reducing that risk of pathogens within the airspace.”

The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention is promoting a layered approach to reducing exposure to the coronavirus, which includes ventilation improvements according to its website.

“Dilution is one of the key things in order to help to knock pathogens and particulate counts down by having some kind of ventilation,” Phillips said, adding that there are affordable options for businesses looking to make improvements.

“Then there’s other ways that are really hard like putting in HEPA filtration or an ultraviolent bank into a restaurant as an example could be a pretty costly endeavor, but you can look at maybe upgrading your filters a little bit to help reduce that risk, putting in an ionization system or doing both,” he said.

Phillips explained the idea behind ionization technology is making the “pathogen inert, so that can’t attach to you and make you sick.”

The CDC describes technologies such as ionization as “emerging” because of the current lack of track record, though its website states that doesn’t necessarily imply the technologies don’t work as advertised. At the same time, the CDC does offer use of HEPA systems and ultraviolet germicidal irradiation as possible tools for improving ventilation to help protect against the coronavirus. More information on the agency’s recommendations can be found here.

As the world evolves with the pandemic, Phillips imagines more clients will be looking toward ventilation improvements as another layer to stop the spread.

“I think in the grand scheme of things moving forward, we’re going to see a lot more of the indoor air quality solutions being involved in those decisions,” he said.