Healthcare workers have been the real heroes of the pandemic. There are many reasons why healthcare workers around the world have been consistently identified as the top priority in receiving COVID-19 vaccinations. As countries work to protect hospital workers and healthcare providers, we need to do more to protect them until they’re all safe.
Enter indoor air purification.
In the UK, the US, and a number of other nations, this week saw the first batch of coronavirus vaccines reach some of the front-line workers who have battled the spread of the virus since the beginning. Healthcare workers, as a profession, have taken the largest toll of fatalities from the disease due to their close quarters and constant contact with sick patients. Hospital workers don’t have the luxury of social-distancing; they’re face-to-face with patients diagnosed with COVID-19, but also those seeking care for other life-threatening or life-sustaining services needed each and every day.
Studies in Germany, India, Italy, and the United States have found mounting evidence that more must be done to protect workers in hospitals and nursing homes from aerosol particles. Any indoor environment which requires close contact between the healthy and the vulnerable comes with a dramatically increased risk of transmission.
These laboratories have advised a number of measures to improve the safety of healthcare facilities. Some of the basics included improved and monitored ventilation to move fresh air in and stale air out of buildings regularly. Further recommendations include the installation of automatic humidifiers that can keep indoor humidity between 40-60%, as well as portable air filtration devices to target high-risk areas just as waiting rooms.
There are numerous examples of indoor transmission caused by out-of-date and inefficient HVAC systems, especially in nursing home facilities. Many hospitals adhere to state and federal standards for ventilation, while nursing and long-term care facilities may not meet the same standards. There are documented cases of ventilation systems contributing to the spread of COVID-19 in the United States, Italy, and the Netherlands. While hard evidence has been difficult to compile, most experts agree that cold weather driving more people indoors in autumn and winter, plus holiday gatherings, have caused a massive spike in cases around the world. In the US, deaths have now reached over 300,000 since the pandemic began.
As more regular medical services return, similar investments must be made in other environments that require close contact and the inability to use masks. Dental offices are an especially high-risk situation, where patients put workers at risk of aerosol exposure in close proximity and for extended periods of time. Oral surgeries and any operating theater in the medical field with multiple staff involved only heighten the risk of mass exposure and more rapid spread.
The study also advocated for a more robust installation of HEPA filter and bipolar needlepoint ionization where applicable, emphasizing that only through a concerted effort between ventilation, filtration, neutralization, and personal protective measures can these types of locations be occupied safely.
For more on the study’s findings and recommendations, head here.