Air please! We often hear about the air quality of cities in relation to pollution, but what about the air quality of public buildings like our schools? This is certainly the most underestimated element of this pandemic! Creating sufficient air movement and exchange is important in times of health crisis, but also during winter. Beware! Having a ventilation system is not enough: it must also be efficient. If not, a system could even contribute to the distribution of microorganisms! Scientific findings on the methods of virus propagation, including droplet size, have shown the importance of airborne particles. While it is possible to remove masks indoors under certain distance conditions, our efforts can be thwarted if ventilation is insufficient. All public buildings should be equipped with ventilation systems with filters (HEPA, activated carbon, PM-2.5) and UVC light capable of preventing the spread of germs and allowing higher rates of air change than are currently available.
Spring is coming this month, and it feels good! While many Quebecers enjoy winter sports, many stay cooped up in the warmth. Our built environments could be better adapted to Quebec's four seasons, including winter, which the virus may force us to tame, particularly in urban environments that we could learn to inhabit more like the Scandinavians do. These adaptations go hand in hand with strategies to reduce the spread of the virus: widening pedestrian and bicycle corridors, expanding terraced areas in our cities, adding heating systems, etc. The spread of the virus is more difficult outdoors than in confined areas due to the environment: 1) the humidity level, which affects its resistance, 2) the high temperature (in summer), which deteriorates it and 3) the solar radiation (UVC), which deactivates it. These factors are compounded by the open air, including wind, and the greater distance between individuals.
Our built environment is not just a setting, but a dynamic habitat that has the power to change our behavior and emotions. Skeptical? Architects can play with moods - like filmmakers or modulate the layout of a space full of people to decrease our sense of oppression and increase our performance at work. Is your decision to favor the stairs over the lift your own? It may be influenced by the accessibility of the stairs or their visual effect. And it is better for your health! The location of hand-washing stations will also influence your hygiene behavior. In times of a pandemic, the built environment must be thought through to encourage people to adhere to behaviors that reduce the transmission of the virus without imposing an additional mental burden or significant psychological inconvenience. The easier and more natural the actions required; the more resilient people will be.
The idea of infection prevention and control is not new in the architectural world. However, COVID-19 has brought further transformations in the spatial configuration of our built environment. In hospitals, cold and warm zones have been introduced, often delimited by removable dividers. The adaptability of layouts has proven its importance during the crisis, for example in office buildings. Our needs change, and our environment should allow us to adapt our spaces accordingly. The use of graphics is a creative way to separate spaces without adding furniture, such as adding tape to the floors of our grocery shops. The addition of plexiglass panels and the installation of decontamination stations are other examples of space configuration. Finally, we cannot ignore the new reality of working at home and the ergonomic problems that this poses.
The idea of one-way traffic, even in our buildings, has made its way into our lives over the past year. It is an effective solution to the lack of space in transit areas that do not allow sufficient social distancing between individuals. Pathways can be set up for users and visitors, but also to separate employees from the public.
Finding a balance between the comfort of individuals and the hostility of our environments for microbes is a challenge! Air quality is very important, but it is not the only thing. The ambient environmental conditions - humidity, temperature, and UVC radiation, affect the ability of the virus to survive and spread. An application has been developed to track the environmental conditions for COVID-19 around the world, over the seasons. Increasing the humidity in our buildings during our dry winters is therefore a good idea: use a humidifier to achieve a relative humidity of 30% to 50%. The good news is that you can fight the virus and dry skin in one go!
Cleaning surfaces between customers is a costly extra step for business owners in terms of resources: products, time and employees. However, there are technological solutions that can work for us and be used in different environments. One such technology is UVC light. At the right wavelength (222 nm), it destroys microorganisms in seconds and is harmless to our health! UVC lights could be installed in airports and hospitals, places where germs abound. This technology is already used in hotels. In Japan, LightStrike robots have been tested in hospitals. What a world!
The choice of materials for a built environment must consider, now more than ever, the survival of microorganisms on inert surfaces. The COVID-19 virus would not survive very long on inert surfaces, but this strategy needs to look at the bigger picture and consider various pathogens. The use of such materials is especially beneficial for high contact surfaces, such as door handles. The long-known antimicrobial properties of copper are resurfacing as a new type of aluminum shines!
Recognition of flu-like symptoms, such as fever, can be difficult, or at least subjective, among the general public. New technologies such as thermal sensing, cameras that measure the temperature of our foreheads, will soon be making their way to retailers. The entry of this technology into our lives is inevitable, but not so fast! Ethical issues around the collection of this data and its reliability are being raised. Fever is not the only condition that can explain a rise in body temperature, and imagine the sense of seclusion experienced by someone detected, wrongly or not! Although employers are already using this technology for their teams, it is not yet acceptable among the general public. The Commission on Ethics in Science and Technology, chaired by Professor Jocelyn Maclure, is looking into several ethical issues raised by COVID-19. Today's politicians are constantly wrestling with the delicate question of the limits between security and freedom.
Our quality of life is certainly linked to the quality of our living environments, i.e. our built environment. LabNco has understood this and demonstrates it with a WELL certification. It is a tool to promote the advancement of people's health and well-being through the creation of buildings. It is a way of thinking about architecture by considering 10 parameters, many of which have been presented to you in this top 10, that contribute to our quality of life. WELL has also released a guide to adjust to the new post-COVID-19 reality. Here they are:
Does your organization and its space consider all these elements? Do you need an expert to support you? LabNco has developed a service to adapt your organization and its environment to the current health crisis: health crisis management. Contact us for more information.