Tue | Nov 30, 2021

Air purification: A subtle defence against COVID-19

Published:Wednesday | December 16, 2020 | 12:19 AMStephen Duhaney/Contributor

As research around the coronavirus (COVID-19) continues to flourish, many of us are becoming hopeless in the realisation that this virus is not going anywhere any time soon.

Recent studies have confirmed that not only does the virus spread through coughs and sneezes, but it also lingers in the air around us. In a hunt for solutions to make this new normal adaptable and accessible to all, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention has revealed what would provide heavy assistance in the prevention of the virus: air purifiers.

SARS-CoV-2, which is the virus responsible for COVID-19, spreads mainly through droplets and aerosols which pass through the air when we cough, sneeze, talk, and even breathe.

CRUCIAL USE OF MASKS

A portion of airborne SARS-CoV-2 virions can still float for a minimum of three hours after the use of disinfectant sprays. This is why masks are crucial and limits are enforced regarding how many people can be in a space at one time. We must follow these rules, particularly when indoors where the virus is trapped and increasingly harmful.

Despite often being overlooked, the matter of healthy indoor air quality needs to be more pressingly addressed. HVAC (heating, ventilation, and air conditioning) systems in a majority of the buildings in Jamaica are dated and possibly harmful. These HVAC systems are solely designed to force cool air into the space, but not to extract the polluted air below. These systems, therefore, increase rather than decrease the spread of viruses and harmful particles.

Displacement ventilation is the most common HVAC system found in everyday offices and business spaces. The system includes vents at the top and bottom of the room, which separate warm, used air from cool, new air. The top vent intakes the used air which can include virus-contaminated air, while the bottom vent produces cool, uncontaminated air. Due to the limited and now harmful operations of these HVAC systems, the CDC and the World Health Organization strongly recommends the use of HEPA (high-efficiency particulate air) equipped air purifiers in high foot traffic spaces such as offices, restaurants, and businesses.

Portable air filtration systems that utilise HEPA filters can be crucial to the eradication of airborne virus carriers which are responsible for harbouring SARS-CoV-2. The efficacy of HEPA filters has been proven over time. These specialised filters capture up to 99.97 per cent of dangerous aerosolised particles that range in size from 0.1 - 0.3 microns. Aerosolised virus carriers, which

on average are between one to five microns in size are, therefore readily intercepted by HEPA equipped air purifiers.

Supplemented by routine cleaning, air purifiers remove unwanted particles from the indoor air such as dust, allergens, mould, smoke, virus carriers, and other forms of pollution. Air purifiers ingest the air and use several filters to trap unwanted particles. After circulating, the purifier can expel safe air, free of particulates, viruses, and other harmful pollutants.

Prices for air purifiers can range from US$50 ($7,174.98) at a 1 USD = 143.5159 JMD exchange rate) to US$900 ($129,149.71), commensurable with the size and applicable coverage space of the purifiers.

It is important to avoid ozone air purifiers as studies have shown that they cause lung irritation and are defective at reducing odour. In larger spaces, one air purifier, depending on the size, will likely not be enough, and therefore additional, or a purifier with a larger footprint/coverage area, will be required for the desired effect.

In these unprecedented times, it is of utmost importance that we seek feasible and safe solutions to help us adapt to the new normal. Having observed the integration of air purifiers in a few medical facilities, banks, and other corporate settings islandwide, I implore more entities to take the steps necessary to maintain the safety of patrons and staff. This new normal has opened our eyes to the pervasive nature of viruses, indoor air pollution, and unhealthy working environments. Let us take this opportunity as a collective to prioritise our well-being. Augmented assistance provided by portable air purification units should be paired with continuous wearing of masks in public spaces and frequent sanitisation as these are most important. Please continue to follow the guidelines set out by our Ministry of Health and Wellness as we remain open to new solutions that appear in the wake of research science.