October 6, 2020

Are HVAC systems the new silver bullet?

Superheroes — what’s not to love?

They have it all: brains, brawn and superpowers, often swooping in at the last minute to fight off evil and save the day.

Superheroes are the fictional version of a “silver bullet” — something that provides an immediate solution to a complex problem. Across the world right now, society is searching for a “silver bullet” solution in the fight against COVID-19.

Whether online, in-person or a hybrid approach, educational institutions are executing their reopening plans in hopes of preventing the spread of the coronavirus. They're working tirelessly to provide the healthiest and safest learning environments for everyone.

Part of the challenge with providing the best learning environment is misinformation and a general lack of understanding about the virus. Since COVID-19 reached North America at the beginning of March, there has been much debate over the best methods to slow transmission, the most effective methods of treatment, and how society should be cleaning and disinfecting to further stop the spread.

Method 1: Respiratory droplets

The primary method of transmission from person to person is through respiratory droplets. When someone infected with the coronavirus sneezes, coughs or talks, the infectious droplets can land on surfaces around them or be inhaled by someone nearby. Another person may then touch the contaminated surface and infect themselves once they touch their nose, mouth, or eyes.

Method 2: Aerosol transmission

There is the possibility of short-range inhalation of infectious aerosols. Through everyday activities including speaking and breathing, both droplets and finer aerosols are produced. The main difference between droplets and aerosols is that droplets will land on surfaces, while aerosols remain suspended in the air for some time, pushed around by currents colliding with people and surfaces in the surrounding area. As outlined in a recent article on StatNews by Sharon Begley, the COVID-19 virus has an aerosol half-life of 1.1 hours, meaning “half the particles drop out of the air after that amount of time and half of what remains to drop out after another 1.1 hours. After a day, roughly nine half-lives, 0.002 (0.2 of 1%) of the original particles remain. As a result, the scientists said, ‘aerosol … transmission of [the new coronavirus] is plausible since the virus can remain viable and infectious in aerosols for hours.’ ” If the aerosols are infected with the virus, there is the risk someone becomes infected by inhalation.

But what about a “silver bullet” solution?

Now that there's an understanding of the two modes of transmission, let’s look a bit closer at the “silver bullet” cleaning and disinfecting solutions that have been explored. We’ve included a timeline:

March to May

The media promoted disinfecting chemicals and solutions (including disinfecting wipes and sprays) as the “silver bullet”.

June to July

Businesses rapidly pushed UVC light disinfection as the “silver bullet” to disinfect large areas quickly and effectively — it’s important to note that many of the UVC solutions do not stand up to the claims they make (learn more).

August to September

As North American society begins to understand there are two methods of transmission, people are now turning to air purifiers and HVAC systems as the “silver bullet” to stop the spread.

What does this mean for educational institutions, airports, shopping centers and others looking for a “silver bullet” solution as they welcome back people to their facilities?

Many are turning to air purifiers and HVAC systems; $50 million in funding has been allocated by the Ontario government to upgrade the air quality in schools in an effort to bolster COVID-19 safety measures (source: The Globe & Mail; Ontario school boards urged to spend air quality upgrade funding by Thanksgiving).

In the fight against COVID-19, a multi-pronged approach is imperative. Improving air quality can be included as one of many tactics, but the efforts should not end there.

Let’s consider what happens if HVAC systems are viewed as the only solution needed to clean and disinfect a school.

hvac in school

Similar to how dust in your house moves around via air currents before settling on the counters, floors and other surfaces, COVID-19-infected aerosols move around the same way. As the air is agitated, the aerosols move throughout the space before colliding and landing on different surfaces or being inhaled by someone in the space.

A new HVAC system or air purifier will help move the air throughout the room. However, we need to consider the risk that, as air is agitated, infected aerosol particles will land on other surfaces (and potentially breathed in by people) instead of being pulled directly into the air exchange of the HVAC system.

So how do you address this risk?

Using a multi-pronged cleaning and disinfecting approach is the ONLY answer:

  • Floors: Regular and consistent sanitizing of the floors is key to limit the spread. By removing the droplets, it limits the transmission to other surfaces, items and people. By using an autonomous solution like Neo, the world-leading autonomous floor scrubber, custodial staff are able to spend more time cleaning high-touch 3-D surfaces that require human dexterity.

  • Surfaces: With the floors being cleaned autonomously, custodial staff will have even more time to disinfect surfaces throughout the school — lockers, classroom doors, desks, water fountains, hand rails, cafeterias and gymnasiums.
  • Air: With the floors and surfaces being sanitized and disinfected regularly and consistently, the HVAC system and air purifiers are the final solutions in this multi-pronged approach.

When considering autonomous solutions to support the custodial staff, Neo is the most effective method for keeping the floors regularly and consistently sanitized. Powered by the Avidbots AI Platform, Neo is the industry-leading autonomous floor cleaning robot. This software provides dynamic mapping capabilities and real-time obstacle avoidance. With Avidbots Command Center, Neo provides a level of oversight and performance measurement not found in other commercial floor scrubbers.

By implementing Neo, the autonomous floor-cleaning robot, schools will realize:

  • an increase in cleaning and disinfecting
  • a new team member that pays for itself
  • a better student and staff experience
  • an elevated brand image

To learn more about adding Neo to your custodial team and the benefits of a multi-pronged approach to the fight against COVID-19, please contact us.