UVA Facilities Management use HVAC systems to research COVID-19 transmission

UVA Housing Facilities Associate Director Roland Zumbrunn explains his findings.
UVA Housing Facilities Associate Director Roland Zumbrunn explains his findings.(WVIR)
Updated: Nov. 15, 2020 at 7:55 PM EST
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CHARLOTTESVILLE, Va. (WVIR) - Facilities managers at the University of Virginia have been leading the charge to prevent the spread of COVID-19 on grounds, particularly in classrooms and residence halls. Their research, however, suggests that even having the best air-handling systems in commercial or residential buildings cannot completely prevent transmission of the virus.

UVA Housing Facilities Associate Director Roland Zumbrunn said air filtration systems can help minimize the spread, but it can’t get the job done alone.

“These technical interventions and other options you might have heard about like U-V disinfection or other filtration units, they’re actually quite a bit less useful than non-technical source control measures," Zumbrunn said. “A lot of times we don’t think about how air circulates within the room so even if you air drawing it in and capturing with an air filter, it can take a little while to get there right and it’s not perfect, so it’s better to avoid having such concentration in the first place."

The prevention methods that work best, Zumbrunn said, are wearing a face mask, especially while indoors, and minimizing the concentration of people in a given space.

Zumbrunn said most homes do not have high-grade air filtration systems like those usually found in commercial buildings, but any upgrades would still not be enough to greatly reduce the risk of COVID-19 transmission.

“Realistically if you are sharing a space and no one’s wearing a mask inside your house, your HVAC system is probably not set up to filter out regardless of the level of filtration, although it can’t hurt to have a higher level of filtered air either," he explained.

Even though most people are not able to completely protect themselves from the risk of transmission in their day-to-day activity, making small changes like limiting visitors to your home or working remotely can go a long way.

“If you just do what you can, when you can do it, when it’s possible, your overall risk and that of everyone around you goes down dramatically," Zumbrunn said.

Zumbrunn said, however, that as more people stay indoors during cold days or holiday celebrations, mask-wearing and social distancing may be more crucial than ever before.

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