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Cameron Archer
August 26, 2020

Should I Upgrade My Building to Prevent COVID-19? Or Just Wait it Out?

Dont wait for a vaccine for COVID-19 do something now to prevent airborne transmission

As businesses, schools, and organizations contemplate reopenings, leaders are under pressure to keep occupants safe while the pandemic continues. Deciding how to redesign spaces to minimize airborne transmission is challenging amidst all of the information, misinformation, and technologies of varying effectiveness (and safety) flooding the market. 


Many are exploring major HVAC upgrades or various air sterilization techniques. For some, however, the question isn’t what to do, but if anything should be done at all. Making large-scale HVAC updates can be costly and time-consuming. And implementing such changes when budgets are tight may seem irresponsible, especially when millions of people are out of work. 


So, why not just ride it out and wait for a vaccine? 


Here, we explain why we think you should take action now rather than wait for a return to normalcy. By proactively taking steps to keep your buildings virus-free, you can inspire confidence in your occupants and keep people healthy without breaking the bank. For those whose success depends on a return to in-person operations (e.g., schools, restaurants, retail, etc.), there is a viable path forward.



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COVID-19 is Unique

Many leaders are hesitant to invest in air system quality improvements because we still don’t know much about the novel coronavirus. Scientists are learning new facts every day about how COVID-19 spreads and affects people. Drug developers are pouring millions into R&D in hopes of bringing a vaccine to market quickly. Put simply, we still have a long way to go.


Under such uncertainty, hasty decisions that require big spending may seem ill-advised. However, it is important to keep in mind that no pandemic has affected the modern world like COVID-19. Millions of lives have been upended already, and hundreds of thousands have sadly been lost. 


Despite massive advances in medical research, prevention, and treatment of viral diseases since the last truly catastrophic outbreak (the 1918 Spanish Flu), nearly every person across the globe has been impacted in some way by the COVID-19 pandemic. By viewing COVID-19 through this lens, it’s reasonable to expect that much will change based on what we have learned and will continue to learn from this experience. 


Global Health Leaders Preparing for a Post-COVID-19 World 

The American Society of Heating, Refrigerating and Air-Conditioning Engineers (ASHRAE), a global leader in HVAC science, methodology, and related fields, published a statement in April announcing the creation of an Epidemic Task Force. The mission of the group is to address the relationship between disease transmission and HVAC systems during “the current pandemic and future epidemics.” Put bluntly, ASHRAE is gearing up for more COVID-19s. 


Experts are gearing up for more pandemics like COVID-19



Regulatory standards and legislation are already changing to reflect our new reality. In July, several high-profile institutions, including the WHO, created the COVID-19 Law Lab to share information to help countries implement “strong legal frameworks to manage the pandemic.” And many of these laws and standards aren’t temporary. They are designed to manage the ongoing pandemic and prevent future pandemics of this scale from occurring.


COVID-19 Creating Lasting Impression on People

The pandemic is also creating deep and lasting impressions on our collective consciousness. Until a vaccine is widely available, leaders will have to work hard to earn trust from would-be building occupants. The psychological impacts of social distancing and quarantine are significant, which means indoor spaces have a steep uphill battle ahead.


People who can successfully work from home are unlikely to return to the office if there is any health risk at all. Back in June, only 22% of Americans felt comfortable going back to their workplaces, and 85% reported feeling anxious about catching COVID-19. There is tremendous pressure today on leaders to maintain healthy environments, especially for workforces that can’t work from home.


The CDC continues to share health and safety guidelines for organizations, which include regular temperature checks and health screenings. Leaders who don’t implement these practices and other interventions will appear dismissive of our new reality.


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On the education front, many parents are worried about sending kids back to school this fall. A July survey found that over 70% of parents felt that it was risky for in-classroom learning to resume. As school systems figure out how to implement hybrid learning at scale, students will become increasingly used to switching between classroom and digital learning. According to Forbes, online learning will become much more mainstream as teachers and administrators invest further in remote teaching infrastructure. 


In summary, people are expecting leaders to take action today to minimize the spread of COVID-19. And as these changes occur, we will become used to a new way of working, learning, and living that preclude us from returning to a previous “normal.”

A New Normal is Coming

The bottom line: it makes sense to do something today because COVID-19 is motivating a slew of changes to existing standards. The experts understand that this can happen again. Don’t be surprised if building codes and air quality standards change to reflect recent learnings. 


Quantitative measures aside, we, as a global human population, have new social and emotional relationships to our spaces, air, and cleanliness. People are more attuned now than ever to the reality that how we manage our environments can dramatically affect others. Change is inevitable as we continue to reflect on how life after COVID-19 should look.


Inaction today will put you far behind others who are adapting now and instituting changes that people expect leaders to implement. Although you do have a choice, the best decision is to invest now, accepting that COVID-19 is changing our world permanently.


For ideas on how to get started, go here.

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