Early in the pandemic, a raft of mixed messages made it difficult for businesses to be certain about the best way to keep customers and staff safe. But now, seven months into an ongoing pandemic, many public health authorities have offered guidance that better ventilation and indoor air quality (IAQ) are critical to stopping COVID-19 where it lives: in the air.
For retailers, restaurants and other small businesses, this new guidance presents yet another hurdle in their fight to survive the pandemic. Larger chains generally have the infrastructure and resources to respond quickly to changing guidance. But what can independent businesses do to reduce the threat of infection via airborne particles of the virus?
Patrick O’Neill, president of mCloud North America and an expert on healthy buildings, offers these four steps for small businesses looking to address their indoor air quality issues.
Step One - HVAC Inspection
For most small business owners, indoor air quality has been the last thing on their minds. More than likely, the performance of their HVAC system has been an afterthought. The threat posed by COVID-19 now makes it a top priority.
If you’re a small business owner, the best way to start is to have a reputable HVAC contractor inspect your system to ensure it’s working properly. The key is to validate that your HVAC system’s airflow is meeting ASHRAE standards for ventilation and air quality. You will want to make sure the amount of fresh air refreshes meets ASHRAE requirements based on square footage and maximum occupancy.
The inspection should include ensuring outdoor air dampers as well as diffusers -- indoor air vents – are working properly to ensure a steady flow of fresh air is being evenly distributed throughout the occupied spaces.
A working HVAC system regularly distributing outside air to customers and staff is one of the fundamental things a business can do to help mitigate COVID-19 infection risk.
Second Step – Filtration
In the past, most small business only used air filters to remove dust and larger particles. However, to reduce the risk of COVID-19, it’s best to install an air filter rated MERV 13 or above. It’s the filter rating that most experts consider effective for removing a meaningful amount of virus load from the air.
Unfortunately, one issue that often arises is that a building’s HVAC system doesn’t accommodate a MERV 13 filter. Also, additional energy use is required to keep air blowing through the more densely compact MERV 13 filter.
Installing a higher-rated and more robust filter is not foolproof but over time it will catch significant amounts of the virus in the air and reduce risk.
Third Step – Destroy the Virus
Once you’ve increased fresh air flow and have implemented the best filtration that is compatible with your HVAC system, the next step is to install a system that will actually kill the virus to minimize risk even further.
Some businesses have chosen to implement UV-C light to destroy airborne pathogens. Because UV-C lights can be harmful to humans, it is important to install them properly so people are not directly exposed. One approach that is often used is to place them in the air ducts. However, it is important to have the lights installed by an expert to ensure that they are powerful enough to kill the virus in fast-moving air.
In addition to offering UV-C solutions, mCloud partnered with SecureAire to offer an approach that drives airborne particles, including viruses and bacteria, to a filter that attracts and binds particles to each other, making them larger and heavier so they are captured in the air purification cartridge. These pathogens are then subjected to a high-intensity energy field that destroys any living organisms, including viruses, and eliminating them as a health threat.
Fourth Step – Monitoring
Much like building security systems are a fact of life for small businesses, indoor air quality monitoring systems are fast becoming indispensable for any business.
Real-time monitoring of indoor air quality will let business owners know if their mitigation efforts are working. While most systems won’t tell you if the COVID-19 virus has been eliminated from the air, proper monitoring offers a clear view into how healthy indoor air is through sensors measuring CO2, humidity and other key factors. It can tell, for instance, if the HVAC ventilation system is delivering enough fresh air to dilute potential viruses in the air.
Indoor air quality monitoring can also help you adjust HVAC systems to ensure you are using just the right amount of ventilation and associated energy to stay safe, reducing energy costs. The fact you are monitoring IAQ can also be displayed to employees and the public to assure everyone your business is taking every precaution with their health and well-being.
For further information on how mCloud can help you with mitigate COVID-19 in your business, please visit our Back to Business during COVID-19 page.