In the last decade, healthcare professionals have learned much about how many diseases spread throughout their facilities. While Wells and Riley taught us 75 years ago that disease can pass from room to room, COVID-19 forced us to reexamine the mechanisms of disease transfer, leading to a greater understanding of aerosols.
Consequently, this education has increased indoor air quality awareness among healthcare professionals and patients. The manufacturing market responded, with hundreds of manufacturers creating thousands of companies and products that claim to improve air quality. These products range from fifty dollars to tens of thousands. Whether you work in infection control or facilities management, there are becoming too many mechanisms that claim to improve air quality to understand them all.
So how can you simplify the process of air quality improvement?
Fortunately, the CDC provides most of the guidance on how, but they provide little guidance on where, when, and for who.
I advise anyone who is starting their air quality project to start with monitoring. It’s an old saying that you can’t manage what you can’t measure, but air measurement is more difficult because there may not be any visual cues.
Healthcare professionals should look for a few measurements specifically when looking for an air quality monitor.
- PM 1 – Ensure your air quality monitor can see down to this size particle. This is the size that most pathogens fall into.
- VOCs – VOCs frequently can contribute to respiratory issues and can be caused by chemicals and construction, which are present frequently at healthcare facilities.
- Historical data – As a best practice, someone should review your data monthly to evaluate air quality. Air quality management has surpassed only managing emergencies and should always seek to provide high-quality air.
After reviewing your air quality data, healthcare staff can now see the areas where they have a critical need. While many healthcare facilities have focused on patient rooms, other locations, such as waiting rooms where families co-mingle, may be more important to mitigate disease transfer.
Understanding critical areas also allows a healthcare facility to implement a multi-year plan to improve air quality, allowing expenses to occur across multiple fiscal years.
An air purification device must be selected now that critical locations have been identified. The CDC has provided two key pieces of guidance on air purification. Upper-room Ultraviolet Germicidal Irradiation (UVGI) and directional airflow. UVGI means using a device that targets upper-room air with UV-C energy to eliminate pathogens and particulates. Directional airflow means air should flow in a clean to “less clean” direction. The goal is to provide everyone with their personal pocket of air that UV-C lighting has just been disinfected.
If you commit to these goals, you will find that very few air purification devices meet both standards. An air purifier that plugs into the corner of a room, whether they are HEPA or UV-C cannot meet these specifications because they don’t target upper room air. Similarly, a ceiling-mounted unit that does not create any airflow will have difficulty adhering to directional airflow as they are passive.
Now that you have air purification units, your air quality monitors should show that the facility’s previous air quality problems have now been corrected. Anomalies can be evaluated and annotated to prevent future recurrences. Data can be reviewed by the day, month, or year to show air quality improvements. It can then be cross-referenced with HAI and SSI data to evaluate if this has helped reduce infections.
Sticking to this guidance will streamline your process to build an air quality standard in your business that helps to reduce communicable diseases. It will provide effective disinfection and purification solutions while also allowing you to provide reporting to your superiors and colleagues that is easily digestible.
Chris Romani is the Chief Marketing Officer for illumiPure and manages their building certification program. He is deeply involved in the healthy buildings’ movement, advocating for solutions that provide health, wellness, and productivity in the spaces where people live, work, and play. He is an advocate for environmental equality and works to ensure that people have safe indoor spaces. He has written over a dozen articles and eBooks on how new technology can positively impact our indoor environments and how to add them economically and responsibly to workspaces.