EH&S experts deal with the concerns of employees’ HVAC workers

Returning to the office after a year of absence amid the pandemic is not without lingering health and safety issues.

Joseph Raab, Director of Environment, Health and Safety at the University Library, and David Pawlowski, Biosafety Officer, made the rounds on campus to answer these questions from staff.

“One of the most common questions we get are questions from employees about ventilation at UB and what we do about ventilation,” says Raab.

According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention guidelines, there is still much that scientists have not yet established about COVID-19 and ventilation. The CDC notes, however, that “while airflow in a given room can help spread disease among people in that room, there is no definitive evidence that viable viruses were transmitted through an HVAC system that were too transmission of diseases to people in other rooms are served by the same system. “

To reduce the risk, the CDC recommends adjusting HVAC systems to increase the fresh air flow in buildings, extending HVAC runtimes, and upgrading filters when possible – all steps UB has taken over the past few months.

“We have done that in many buildings on campus to increase transit times and fresh air,” says Raab. “In some UB buildings, the university has upgraded filters in situations where the airflow was not sacrificed. However, many of the systems at UB still use the filters that were standard before the pandemic.

“If we opted for a higher quality filter, in many cases we simply wouldn’t be able to provide enough airflow or condition the air in the building properly,” he says. “Reducing the airflow would run counter to the CDC recommendations. In addition, the conditions can be very uncomfortable because the stagnant air becomes too hot and humid in summer or too cold in winter. “

Raab and Pawlowski note that the CDC recommends a layered approach to avoid exposure to the virus. The UB Environment, Health, and Safety team fear that too much focus on air filtration can detract from the important problem of airflow in a room. Compared to the start of the pandemic, the CDC and industry experts emphasize the need for airflow in buildings rather than just focusing on filtration. In many cases, increasing filtration will reduce airflow.

In addition to improving ventilation, the layered approach includes physical distancing, wearing face masks, hand hygiene, and vaccinations where possible. For those who have not been vaccinated and those who are taking certain immune-compromising drugs, “the most important thing you can do indoors is to continue to take the basic precautions that have been used throughout the pandemic, especially face coverings,” says Raab.

“We adjusted the ventilation in accordance with CDC guidelines,” he notes, “but in general the masking will be more effective than any change in ventilation where the systems were already in effect before the pandemic.”

Raab and Pawlowski remind staff members who have concerns about returning to campus that vaccination rates are high in western New York. In fact, over 70% of people in western New York aged 18 and over have at least one dose of vaccine. The latest data shows that vaccinations are the best way to significantly reduce the risk of COVID-19 infection, including the Delta variant, and vaccinations are very effective in protecting people from serious illness.

Here’s what else Raab has to say:

CDC Recommendations for Work: The CDC states that fully vaccinated people “can resume their pre-pandemic activities”.

The CDC return to work guidelines on cleanliness, ventilation, and other precautions are largely guidelines for unvaccinated individuals. So vaccinated people can generally return to work as they did before the pandemic, but those not vaccinated will need to take some extra precautions, such as wearing face covers and taking mandatory weekly COVID-19 tests. UB’s updated health guidelines for returning to campus will be posted here.

Workplace surfaces: In the middle of the pandemic, the CDC reported that the risk of infection from touching a surface is low. This particular disease, COVID-19, does not spread from surfaces as easily as some other diseases do. The most reliable way to prevent surface infection is to wash your hands thoroughly with soap and water. In situations where hand washing is not readily possible, CDC recommends the use of hand sanitizer.

Cleaning vs. Disinfection: The difference between cleaning and disinfection is that cleaning is essentially used with a product that contains soap or a detergent to reduce germs on surfaces by removing contaminants and reducing the risk of infection. The disinfection actually kills any remaining germs on the surfaces, which further reduces the risk.

As during the entire pandemic, the cleaning staff at the University Library will supplement cleaning by disinfecting touch-sensitive surfaces. These are things like doorknobs, shared workspaces, and similar surfaces. The cleaners will continue to clean and disinfect the toilets regularly, as you would normally expect.

Common areas in the workplace: Maintain good hand hygiene before and after using common workstations and frequently touched objects. Basically, you should have a small container of hand sanitizer before you touch the copier. Use the hand sanitizer before touching the controls. Grab your copies and use another round of hand sanitizer afterwards.

It’s similar with a kitchenette, except when washing your hands. Wash your hands, prepare your lunch, put your food in the microwave. Then take it out of the microwave, take your plate, and wash your hands again before you eat.

“I think these simple things can really reduce the risk of germs on surfaces of multiple users,” says Raab.

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