Urgent Guidance on COVID-19 and HVAC in Buildings
Important new guidance from ASHRAE addresses the challenges that arise in managing the spread of the new SARS-CoV-2 coronavirus in the operation and maintenance of HVAC systems.
The guidance has been published as two, separate statements and addresses inaccurate claims which have appeared in the media in relation to HVAC systems in buildings.
Specifically, ASHRAE rejects widely published ‘advice’ that HVAC systems should not be operated in residential or commercial facilities, and asserts further, that keeping air conditioners operational during the COVID-19 pandemic can help control the spread of the virus.
ASHRAE President Darryl K. Boyce, P.Eng., adds: “In light of the current global pandemic, it’s critically important that ASHRAE responds with guidance on mitigating the transmission of the virus, as well as ventilation and filtration recommendations.
“ASHRAE has a significant role to play in ensuring safe and healthy building environments and these statements offer the expert strategies needed at this time.”
(a) ASHRAE’s statement on airborne transmission of SARS-CoV-2/COVID-19
Transmission of SARS-CoV-2 through the air is sufficiently likely that airborne exposure to the virus should be controlled. Changes to building operations, including the operation of heating, ventilating, and air-conditioning systems, can reduce airborne exposures.
(b) ASHRAE’s statement on operation of heating, ventilating, and air-conditioning systems to reduce SARS-CoV-2/COVID-19 transmission
Ventilation and filtration provided by heating, ventilating, and air-conditioning systems can reduce the airborne concentration of SARS-CoV-2 and thus the risk of transmission through the air. Unconditioned spaces can cause thermal stress to people that may be directly life threatening and that may also lower resistance to infection. In general, disabling of heating, ventilating, and air-conditioning systems is not a recommended measure to reduce the transmission of the virus.
HVAC filters, along with other strategies, help to reduce virus transmission while removing other air contaminants that may have health effects.
Additional Guidance published by ASHRAE’s Environmental Health Committee
A separate, Emerging Issues Brief from ASHRAE’s Environmental Health Committee, further supports the above statements by stating: “There is great concern about the real possibility of transmission through the air of various pathogens, especially SARS-CoV-2, among staff and administration in healthcare facilities, office workers, retail workers and patrons, manufacturing workers, and residents in private and public facilities and the general public in outdoor settings and in public transportation.”
Establishment of ‘Epidemic Task Force’
ASHRAE has created the Epidemic Task Force, comprised of leading experts to address the relationship between the spread of disease and HVAC in buildings during of the current pandemic and future epidemics. The ASHRAE Environmental Health Committee’s Position Document Committee also updated a Position Document on Infectious Aerosols.
Chair of the Task Force, ASHRAE Environmental Health Committee voting member. and 2013-14 ASHRAE Presidential Member, Bill Bahnfleth. adds:
“ASHRAE, working with its industry partners, is uniquely qualified to provide guidance on the design, operation, and maintenance of heating, ventilation, and air-conditioning systems to the COVID-19 pandemic as well as to prepare for future epidemics.”
Please visit the newly updated ASHRAE’s COVID-19 Resources webpage at ashrae.org/COVID19 for additional details. The page includes frequently asked questions and the latest information on the ETF’s guidance for healthcare facilities, residential buildings and other issues related to the COVID-19 pandemic.