A Call for “Paradigm Shift” to Fight Airborne Spread of COVID-19 Indoors

In a paper published in Science, a team of researchers are leading an international call for a “paradigm shift” in combating airborne pathogens such as COVID-19, demanding universal recognition that infections can be prevented by improving indoor ventilation systems.

Jordan Peccia, the Thomas E. Golden, Jr. Professor of Chemical & Environmental Engineering, was among nearly 40 researchers from 14 countries who co-authored the paper, which calls for a shift in standards in ventilation requirements, equal in scale to the transformation in the 1800s when cities started organizing clean water supplies and centralized sewage systems.

Peccia noted that engineering has made tremendous progress toward reducing water-borne illness in the 20th century - but there’s still more to be done. 

"The regular emergence of pandemic viral respiratory strains, many of which can be transmitted by the airborne route, demonstrate the need for engineers to design and implement building systems that control transmission indoors," Peccia said.

The international group of air quality researchers called on the World Health Organisation to extend the indoor air quality guidelines to include airborne pathogens and to recognize the need to control hazards of airborne transmission of respiratory infections.

Lead author Lidia Morawska, director of Queensland University of Technology’s International Laboratory for Air Quality and Health, said there needs to be a change in the perception that the costs of control are unaffordable, given the globally monthly harm from COVID-19 had been conservatively estimated as $1 trillion and the cost of influenza in the US alone exceeded $11.2 billion annually.

“We need to establish the foundations to ensure that the air in our buildings is clean with a significantly reduced pathogen count, contributing to the building occupants’ health, just as we expect for the water coming out of our taps,” Professor Morawska said. “Mandated building ventilation standards need to include higher airflow, filtration and disinfection rates, and monitors that allowed the public to observe the quality of air around them. We should have virus-free air indoors.”

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