New study points to importance of ventilation to reduce indoor COVID spread

As feds return to the workplace, they may wonder if social distancing, face masks and frequent cleaning of surfaces are enough to keep them safe from COVID-19.

Last week, the New York Times reported on a new University of Florida study that described  the role played by aerosols in COVID disease transmission. Researchers found viable coronavirus floating in the room of two COVID-19 patients as much as 16 feet away. The concentration was low, but indoor spaces without good ventilation could accumulate more airborne virus over time, the lead researcher told the 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 told FederalSoup. “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, affirmed the article supports his belief that airborne COVID is real, and that it could lead to infection.

“With COVID, we should err on the side of caution,” Bahnfleth told FederalSoup. 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.

“We already see plenty of evidence for airborne transmission of diseases like COVID-19,” Bahnfleth concluded. “The Florida study is just one more piece of evidence supporting the possibility, [and] more evidence we aren’t wasting time or money trying to protect against the risk.”

Many feds who are currently teleworking  are concerned that going back to the office or worksite brings them added danger of infection. A recent American Federation of Government Employees survey showed nearly 80% of feds now teleworking feel uneasy about reporting in person to their agency or workplace.

“People do not want to go back to the office,” Kate Lister, president of Global Workplace Analytics, “They are afraid of COVID -- getting it at the office, or even from public transportation getting there.”

Lister who recently testified in Congress on telework and other work experiences during coronavirus, told FederalSoup that feds have many safety concerns about work in the pandemic. GWA and its partners conducted a survey on telework – that included feds -- before and during the COVID emergency. Before, about 28% of federal employees reported teleworking. Since the outbreak, that figure reached 92%. Though many have returned to the office, Lister said most feel safer at home.

Reader comments

Wed, Aug 26, 2020

To "You're all going to be sick". No. We're not. Actually face coverings and masks help prevent illness and the spread of COVID. There is a tiny grain of truth in your nonsense though. That is, when people get infected with COVID, if they survive they do gain some immunity. At least that's what most articles say. But a mask is a good way to make sure that if you get sick you get less sick and survive. In other words you're just about all wrong. WEAR A MASK EVERYONE. Especially when in a building and around anyone else.

Wed, Aug 26, 2020

You're all going to be sick this fall & winter, as you are killing your immune system wearing masks everywhere all of the time. Covid is a cover for people not to return to the office in most cases.

Tue, Aug 25, 2020 sam

To Dave H. comment. People are getting the virus from home and from work, and from touching things but the medical authorities are sure that most of it is from the air. The only question is up to now the doctors thought almost all covid from the air was from nearby less than 6 feet, in small water drops. But this research and other research is showing that the virus can float around in the air without water droplets. So Dave you are wrong. It is not just from touching things and then touching your face. It is from the air itself. Plenty of medical studies and news stories on this. Just google it.

Tue, Aug 25, 2020 Sergio CA

I understand the need to wear a mask when walking aroung the office but if you are in your office or cubicle with 6 feet high walls, I think you can have your mask off. But some emmployees still want to come to work when they feel ill. That is what really needs to be stopped. I know work is important but if you are not feeling well, Stay Home!! But also, some people do have underlining conditions, so we need to think about them as well. So be considerate and stop being a selfish idiot. We all have a job to do. We work for the people not ourselves.

Tue, Aug 25, 2020

Another great reason for Feds to become more electronic and telework!

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