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.

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.

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