Mitigation strategies against the public transmission of airborne COVID‑19 in high occupancy structures: a program of research to develop optimized mechanical ventilation systems
This research program brings together experts in Engineering and Medical Sciences to develop Non-Pharmaceutical Interventions (NPI) related to mechanical ventilation systems in buildings. These settings have high concentrations of humans in enclosed spaces where the spread of airborne infections can have rapid, extensive, and detrimental consequences in terms of morbidity, mortality, and ultimately productivity and costs. This research program targets a key mechanism of COVID‑19 transmission, that is, transport of the virus through heating, ventilation, and air conditioning (HVAC) systems with subsequent inhalation by other people. Currently, it is not clear how human-generated bioaerosols affect airborne virus transmission and how HVAC systems should be optimally designed and operated to reduce the risk of transmission. This research program will include: 1) a thorough review of building science literature related to airborne virus transmission; 2) a policy directive for governing organizations who inform owners and operators of ventilation systems and building code bodies; 3) an inventory and assessment of over 100 buildings with diverse ventilation systems; and 4) an inventory and assessment procedure and protocol for other buildings. This research directly aligns with the objectives of the funding opportunity, in particular, to mitigate the rapid spread of COVID‑19 and its potential negative consequences. Based on the research results, we will develop evidence-based guidance and policy recommendations to inform the design/re-design of buildings. This work has the potential for widespread impacts in terms of establishing policy and procedures that can be applied locally, nationally and internationally. Further, this research will inform the immediate response to the COVID‑19 outbreak while having a broader impact in terms of the spread of other airborne illnesses/contagions and future outbreaks.