Air purification has perhaps never been a hotter topic in the HVAC industry than it is now. In both residential and commercial structures, people are worried about the possibility of COVID-19 (Coronavirus) transmission through airborne particles—and rightfully so. According to recent studies, there is growing evidence to support the possibility of airborne transmission of Coronavirus, particularly in poorly ventilated buildings. These findings have sparked new discussions about air purification and possible strategies for filtering COVID-19 particles out of circulated indoor air.
High efficiency particulate air (HEPA) filters are the most effective at removing even the tiniest of airborne particles from the air we breathe, and many experts are recommending the installation of HEPA filters to reduce the airborne spread of the novel Coronavirus. According to one NASA study, HEPA filters can capture particles that measure as small as 0.01 microns—and considering a Coronavirus particle is believed to measure 0.125 microns, it’s reasonable to think that a HEPA filter would be effective in neutralizing the virus in circulated air systems.
On the other hand, other experts aren’t so sure. According to one Wirecutter article, it’s still unclear “whether a HEPA purifier could catch the virus prior to the point of infection, or for that matter, what level of exposure to the virus causes an infection to begin with.” The reality is that there still isn’t enough concrete research out there to know for sure just how effective HEPA filters are in preventing the airborne spread of COVID-19.
In addition to HEPA filters, some experts have also recommended using germicidal UV lights and air purification systems to neutralize Coronavirus particles. While these kinds of products can be useful in improving indoor air quality, it’s important to understand that no single tool or device can be relied upon to stop the spread of COVID-19. At the end of the day, preventive measures such as wearing a mask, rigorous hand washing, and social distancing are likely our best bet for continuing to flatten the curve.
Still, many states face unique challenges as they continue through their phased reopening plans, especially when it comes to reopening commercial buildings like restaurants and shopping malls. In New York state, Governor Cuomo announced in late June of 2020 that the state’s malls would be required to install high-quality air systems (including HEPA filters) to filter out Coronavirus particles before they are permitted to reopen. This requirement has been met with mixed reactions, including skepticism among shopping mall owners who are worried about the expense and labor associated with stripping down these large buildings and retrofitting them for air purification systems.
The bottom line is that there is still so much unknown about the Coronavirus and how it is transmitted; only time (and additional research) will tell what measures are most effective in preventing the airborne spread of the virus, especially in confined spaces. In the meantime, everybody has an obligation to continue following their state’s social distancing guidelines and taking steps to keep themselves (and others) safe.
HVAC professionals seem to have a lot of differing opinions on the best ways to filter COVID-19 from circulated indoor air. Do you think shopping malls in New York or other states should be required to undergo these changes before reopening to the public, or do you have a different suggestion for safely re-opening these businesses? We’d love to read your professional comments and feedback in the comments section below!