“In cracking the puzzle of superspreading, researchers have had to re-evaluate their understanding” of COVID-19’s transmission, reads a recent article in The Economist. The article, “Improving Ventilation Will Help Curb SARS-CoV-2,” is the latest in long line of publications, from The Atlantic to The Washington Post, to shine a light on the role air quality plays in the spread of the virus.
“Most documented superspreadings have happened indoors and involved large groups gathered in poorly ventilated spaces,” according to The Economist story. “That points to [COVID-19] being a virus which travels easily through the air, in contradistinction to the early belief that short-range encounters and infected surfaces were the main risks. This, in turn, suggests that paying attention to the need for good ventilation will be important in managing the next phase of the pandemic, as people return to mixing with each other,” in enclosed spaces, including offices, gyms, restaurants — and event venues and convention centers.
Convene wrote about how science has come to realize the critical role aerosols play in transmitting COVID-19 in our May/June issue, even as many venues continue to focus their pandemic safety measures on sanitizing surfaces.
“At the start of the pandemic, and as information regarding the spread of the virus continued to come to light, many venues — like everyone else — were tackling the virus through a number of different measures, like improving surface sanitization,” said Charlie Waddell, founder and chief technology officer, Global Plasma Solutions (GPS), an indoor air quality company. “Largely, the focus on reducing pathogens in the air came later and, by then, there were many different technologies on the market claiming to be the solution,” he told Convene. “It is a complex and crowded space.”
GPS has recently installed its patented air purification technology at a number of convention centers, including the Minneapolis Convention Center, the Oklahoma Convention Center, the Cleveland Convention Center, the Philadelphia Convention Center, and the Albany Capital Center. GPS also has partnered with the Charlotte Regional Visitors Authority (CRVA) to have GPS installed in all of its managed venues, including the Charlotte Convention Center, the NASCAR Hall of Fame, Bojangles Coliseum, Ovens Auditorium, and the Spectrum Center.
The company’s patented needlepoint bipolar ionization (NPBI) technology helps improve the air by reducing airborne particulates, odors and pathogens, and works with existing HVAC systems to clean the air by releasing ions into a building’s airstream.
“Event venues [have learned] that clean indoor air solutions are not one-size-fits-all,” Waddell said. “Product selections depend on several factors like size and building layout so finding the right solution requires a good amount of homework.”
And as Jessica Cooper told Convene, event organizers also need to do their homework about COVID-19 protocol at venues they are considering for their in-person events. Cooper, chief commercial officer for the International WELL Building Institute, recommended that planners inquire about venues’ sanitation and cleaning practices, handwashing support, emergency preparedness programs, and specific questions related to air quality, including how the facility manages air filtration and ensures adequate ventilation, whether the facility had taken precautions to prevent Legionella disease after a substantial closure or period of decreased operations, and whether there were plans to minimize respiratory particle exposure through the air.
“Now, more than ever,” Waddell said, it’s important for venues to take “a multi-layer strategy to reduce risks associated with pathogens in the air. Especially for large group gatherings, events, and meetings — industries that have been hit the hardest over the past year, it is an exciting time to be part of this conversation for the short- and long-term benefits of improved indoor air quality.”
Michelle Russell is editor in chief of Convene.