Is better air filtration the key to reopen COVID-closed businesses?

Published: Jul. 7, 2020 at 5:13 PM EDT
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Researchers who study the coronavirus are increasingly concerned that tiny respiratory aerosols from those infected with the virus could have major implications that health policy makers have largely ignored.

When we cough, sneeze, talk, or sing, larger airborne droplets containing virus can usually travel up to about six-feet. But now researchers say the smaller aerosols can travel more than 30-feet and can linger in the air for hours. Masks are the best protection, but improved ventilation systems could also help indoors. Kelly O'Brien talked with air filtration experts to learn more about what it would take to keep coronavirus from spreading inside buildings.

There are a few options for businesses when it comes to COVID filtration, but they can be pricey. And since many still can't reopen, it's hard to tell whether the investment would be worth it.

"Every building's different," said Kris Watson with Mr. Fixit Group, an HVAC contractor in Clinton County, New York. He says customers needing truly pure air usually don't come around unless they have severe allergies. "We have solutions for that, but this virus is a totally different animal."

"In order to be as cautious as possible, looking at the air filtration system is going to help decrease spread regardless of the particle size," said Erin Streiff with the Clinton County Health Department.

At Mr. Fixit they are still planning how to get the COVID-fighting air filtration into businesses without busting their customers bank accounts. "It's going to depend on each building and what their existing system is," Watson said.

He recommends a UV light inside the existing HVAC system to help kill COVID-19 particles. "As the system is pulling air from the house, it has to filter through a series of ultra violet lights that kills coronavirus among other things," Watson said.

But if a business needs to get micron filters, a much finer filter usually used in hospitals, that's where things could get pricey. Watson says the cost depends on square footage of the building and state regulations. "One job probably $2,000, the other job $20,000 to $30,000," he said.

New York Governor Andrew Cuomo Monday said the state is looking to make industry recommendations and is studying different filters, their compatibility with existing systems and the cost to businesses. Until then, businesses like malls, gyms, movie theaters and bowling alleys will remain closed. Cuomo says if there is a way to take the virus out of the air, he's all for it.

Plattsburgh Town Supervisor Michael Cashman says businesses, including many mall tenants, are frustrated that they cannot open and don't have clear cut answers on how to do so. "You can't even begin to get your mind and arms wrapped around the situation until we know what the guidance is," he said.