Federal Employees News Digest

Can better ventilation to reduce COVID spread?

A recent survey released by the American Federation of Government Employees found that of federal employees working remotely, almost 80% say they feel unsafe returning to their work site. However, more than half of federal workplaces are requiring at least some employees to return to offices and other worksites. Of those employees currently working in a federal workplace, 73% said that they don’t believe their employer is doing enough to keep them safe. AFGE's survey, which ran Aug. 5 to Aug. 12 generated almost 2,200 responses. 

A new study from the University of Florida seems to support those concerns.  

Researchers studying the role played by aerosols in COVID disease transmission found viable coronavirus floating in the room of two COVID-19 patients as much as 16 feet apart. The concentration was low, but indoor spaces without good ventilation could accumulate more airborne virus over time, the lead researcher told the New York Times. 

Linsey Marr, a professor of environmental engineering at Virginia Tech and an expert on indoor aerosols, warned that such studies need to be taken very seriously.  

“The new study confirms my thinking about the importance of aerosols in transmitting COVID-19 and how to minimize the risk of transmission,” Marr said. “But it doesn't change any of my thinking. I have been concerned about transmission beyond the 6-foot guideline from the very beginning.” 

“[That’s] why I have been emphasizing a combination of distancing, masks, avoiding crowds, and good ventilation,” Marr said. 

Another expert on indoor air safety, Pennsylvania State University’s William Bahnfleth, said he also believes that airborne COVID is real, and that it could lead to infection. 

“With COVID, we should err on the side of caution,” Bahnfleth said. Management can move on many inexpensive yet very effective air safety improvements, such as increasing the amount of outside air in a building’s ventilation system. “Some improvements can be done just by changing some controls,” he said. 

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