In this new COVID-19 reality, indoor air quality is getting more attention as employers look at ways to keep their workforce and customers safe.
The virus is primarily transmitted from person to person through respiratory droplets that come into contact with their mouth, nose and eyes, according to the World Health Organization. WHO also said in early July that its researchers and other scientists are looking into the possibility of airborne transmission, especially in indoor settings with poor ventilation.
“We’ve seen a number of businesses reach out, asking us to help them with either UV [ultraviolet] lights or other solutions to make sure that [the virus] doesn’t get into the ventilation system or that we manage it, the indoor air quality, a little better,” said Mark Middleton, managing director of Middleton Heat & Air. “I don’t have permission to name the client, but a statewide banking organization hired us to come in and to put those devices in their system. We had a school system that asked us to do that as well.
“We’ve been super, super busy. We quote those products on a regular basis. It’s been a nice boost to business.”
UV lights can be added inside a duct system, and both Middleton and Tom Hunt, executive director of the Arkansas HVACR Association, mentioned them as a good option for businesses that want to lower the risk of COVID-19 transmission.
Middleton said customers have been asking about those and other indoor air quality products, like higher-quality filters and ionization systems, since the pandemic struck. His staff has been fielding questions as well as doing installations.
Middleton Heat & Air is hearing from businesses of all sizes, Middleton said, from office buildings to restaurants to property management companies and medical facilities.
However, some of the features business customers have asked about are already part of their existing HVAC systems. These features haven’t been fully utilized because customers lack knowledge of them, according to Middleton. “So we spend a fair amount of time just trying to provide education,” he said.
Middleton wants business owners to be aware that they don’t need to make a big purchase. They don’t need to buy a whole new system, but can better utilize their current system and augment it with some “not terribly expensive” indoor air quality products, he said.
Middleton said this heightened interest in indoor air quality has created an opportunity for his business to both deepen relationships with current customers and attract new ones.
He added that recent media coverage of this issue appears to have further fueled interest in his company’s products and expertise. In the past month, USA Today, the New York Post, NPR, CNN, Slate Magazine and other outlets have covered the topic of indoor air quality.
In mid-June, the Wall Street Journal reported that proper ventilation reduces the amount of virus in a space and lowers the risk of infection. The article, “How Exactly Do You Catch Covid-19? There Is a Growing Consensus,” cites as its source Yuguo Li, an engineering professor at the University of Hong Kong who co-wrote a study that claimed poor ventilation contributed to a 10-person outbreak at a restaurant in China.
‘Mitigate Those Risks’
Then there’s infectious disease expert Edward Nardell, who suggested air conditioning use across the South may be contributing to a spike in COVID-19 cases and that UV lights could help. He’s cited in a June 29 Harvard Gazette article titled “Is air conditioning helping spread COVID in the South?”
“Business owners care about the health of their employees and their customers, and they recognize that sometimes people are spending eight to 10 hours a day in a space, and the last thing they want to do is take some virus and spread it through the air distribution system in a building when there are ways that we can clearly mitigate those risks, and people are taking that seriously,” Middleton said.
Hunt warned about sales pitches for products that falsely claim to kill viruses instantly. Instead, a systematic approach is best, he said.
“You can approach it from the standpoint of filtration, in terms of making sure there’s sufficient air changes in the house, and also from the standpoint of UV lights,” Hunt said. “And all of them work, and they will work best in concert, but there is no magic ‘put it over in the corner, plug it in, turn it on, and it will kill everything in the house.’”
So, Hunt continued, “The biggest and most important thing for a consumer, whether they be business or residential, is make sure you’re going with a good, reputable local company, because the people you see in the grocery store are the people who will stand behind what you’ve purchased from them.”