How moving indoors in 2020 means bringing the outdoors with you

As we move into autumn, many of the activities we’ve enjoyed outside over the last few months will naturally need to retire indoors. From work to exercise, our daily routine will be enjoyed much more comfortably behind double-glazing from October onwards. This year, of course, moving indoors will be met with much more anxiety than simply just concern over a lack of sunlight or a drop in temperature.

With the great indoors now firmly on the horizon, many organisations have been busy implementing all the necessary measures to help protect their workforce from virus transmission. And alongside the techy and the innovative – UV light to sanitising smartphones, adapted door and tap handles to limit touchpoints, temperature screening and fogging machines – there is resounding evidence that it’s the simple stuff is where we all ought to begin, and in fact, bringing the outdoors in is one of the most effective ways of keeping the air safe and sanitised.

So here’s the context: in a letter to the World Health Organisation (WHO), some 239 scientists signed in support of the thesis that indoor airborne transmission of the coronavirus may be possible. This means that transmission happens not only through direct or close contact of respiratory droplets – small particles of fluid, larger than aerosols – but that those droplets may remain active in the air, and therefore with the ability to infect people.

Returning to the office then requires more measures to ensure that spaces are as safe and as well equipped as possible to help prevent people from becoming unwell. But it’s exactly what these practical measures are and how often they should take place, that has been the topic much discussion both here in the UK and within our European neighbours.

Of course, both employee and employer will be imposing the necessary physical distancing rules, after many months of practice in shops and public spaces. But now more attention will need to be paid to what we can’t see to prevent the airborne transmission of coronavirus, and clean airflow will be vital. According to the scientists leading the research ‘public spaces like a standard classroom should aim to have air replaced with clean air between four to six times an hour to dilute Covid-19 particles that might accumulate’.[1]

That may sound a lot, but it is being done and there’s a number of ways to do it. Aerosol scientists and building engineers advise strategies such as opening windows and doors, installing window fans, using portable air purifiers with high-efficiency particulate air, or HEPA, filters and upgrading heating, ventilation and air-conditioning systems to meet certain standards. And over in Germany, where the culture of replenishing stale indoor air far predates Covid-19, Chancellor Angela Merkel insisted last month that these simple measures, “may be one of the cheapest and most effective ways”[2] of containing the spread of the virus. Indeed the Germans have been practising Stosslüften for generations (a term which needs an explanation for most people unfamiliar with Germany except for experts in air hygiene), involving widely opening a window in the morning and evening for at least five minutes to allow the air to circulate.

So an office environment with as much outside air being circulated as reasonably possible is a well ventilated one. It’s a statement Dr Hywel Davies, technical director of the Chartered Institution of Building Services Engineers, would agree with.  He says, “If you’ve got someone who’s infected in a building, and you’re bringing in plenty of outside air, you’re diluting whatever infectious material they’re giving off. You’re reducing the risk of other people becoming infected.”[3]

Opening windows is all well good, but not always possible if you’re twenty-five floors up, so what then? Most modern fresh air ventilators will need further checks to ensure optimal performance in minimising the risk of virus infections. In the US, researchers investigating the Oregon Health & Science University Hospital found that whilst traces of coronavirus were trapped by the filters, without regular cleaning and changing, the filters become less effective[4].  Avoiding any virus particles passing from the outside in then is a case not solely of relying on filters to do their job indefinitely, but cleaning and replacing the equipment too.

And on that point of air transmission, the use of regenerative air-to-air heat exchangers called air rotors will need to be vigilantly checked to ensure air is not being leaked from the exhaust side into the fresh air supply. Rotary heat exchangers should be properly constructed, installed and maintained as to ensure almost zero transfer of particle-bound pollutants (virus particles) into the office environment.

So keep it fresh is the mantra, and the one we’ll be adhering to at The Brew as we reopen our coworking spaces. Of course, it’s all propped to be up by the necessary hand washing and face-covering measures that come with the territory. Although moving indoors might feel a little uneasy right now, rest assured that much of the outdoors will be joining you there too.

[1] https://www.wsj.com/articles/key-to-preventing-covid-19-indoors-ventilation-11598953607

[2] https://www.theguardian.com/world/2020/sep/30/germans-embrace-fresh-air-to-ward-off-coronavirus

[3] https://www.bbc.co.uk/news/explainers-53917432

[4] https://www.bbc.co.uk/news/explainers-53917432