Guest Column | October 13, 2020

CDC Now Acknowledges COVID-19 Airborne Transmission – What Can Retail Facilities Do?

By Danny Miller, Transformative Wave

COVID 19 Coronavirus

COVID-19 continues to impact retailers and other indoor public spaces who have had to make many adjustments based on CDC recommendations to ensure the safety of employees and guests while at their facilities.

Now, the elevated awareness of airborne transmission in the spread of COVID-19 has led to fresh new guidance from the CDC. In its October 5th, 2020 update, the CDC said that COVID-19 has been found to spread in three ways:

  • Most commonly during close contact with an infected individual (less than 6 feet)
  • Sometimes as the result of airborne transmission between individuals more than 6 feet apart
  • Less commonly through contact with a contaminated surface

It was previously thought that coming into contact with a contaminated surface posed a bigger threat than exposure to someone more than 6 feet away. These findings have led to greater concern about airborne transmission and an emphasis on measures that help mitigate it in the fight against COVID-19.

The CDC update specifically states "There is evidence that under certain conditions, people with COVID-19 seem to have infected others who were more than 6 feet away. These transmissions occurred within enclosed spaces that had inadequate ventilation." The update goes on to provide guidance on how to "Protect Yourself & Others" saying among other things, to "Avoid crowded indoor spaces and ensure indoor spaces are properly ventilated."

Considerations For Combating COVID-19 Indoors

COVID-19 has had a tremendous impact on retailers, restaurants, and other indoor public spaces. Facility operators are continuously adjusting to ensure they’re doing all they can to create safe indoor environments. But it can be confusing trying to decipher which of the various solutions are best for a retail facility to combat the potential for airborne transmission.

What facility operators should keep in mind is that there are three mechanisms to suppress airborne transmission of COVID-19 - disinfection, filtration, and ventilation.

Disinfection attempts to kill the virus typically using products like UV-C lights or bipolar ionization. UV-C is effective as a disinfectant, but largely on stationary surfaces. Both technologies require a sufficient amount of exposure to effectively kill the virus and can be costly to deploy.

Filtration attempts to remove the virus by upgrading HVAC filters to the highest rating possible. However, the HVAC systems serving most retail properties are limited in their ability to handle filters rated to capture and remove tiny virus particles.

The CDC has identified enhanced ventilation as the key to diluting and removing the virus from indoor environments. Specific steps are critical to retail facilities looking to reopen and ensure that occupants are safe. Increased ventilation brings more fresh outdoor air indoors to flush out and dilute possible COVID-19 contaminants. Facility operators can do this by manually reconfiguring each HVAC unit’s outside air dampers and extending the HVAC fan operation. This can be a time consuming and costly process if multiple locations are involved. Alternatively, facility managers can retrofit the HVAC unit with a suitable technology to enable remote automated adjustments of the schedules and damper positions.

As we enter flu season and COVID-19 remains a public health threat, facility operators will need to carefully evaluate all three of the options above (disinfection, filtration, and ventilation) – with a priority on ventilation as it has the most impact for the investment. The facilities that do so will be well-positioned to safely keep indoor operations open while best-protecting occupants.

About The Author

Danny Miller is president of Transformative Wave, a leading innovator in HVAC energy efficiency and building automation solutions, specializing in COVID-Compliant HVAC ventilation strategies.