COVID-19 outbreaks prompt hospital HVAC audit

The Victorian Health and Human Services Building Authority has commissioned engineering assessments of the HVAC systems within wards dedicated to suspected and confirmed COVID-19 patients at 20 hospital sites over the next eight weeks.

The assessment will work with health services to verify airflow rates, effectiveness of ventilation strategies adopted by hospitals, and any adjustments or enhancements that may be recommended to HVAC systems.

The program of work is starting with Western Health, the Alfred, St Vincents, Monash and Peninsula Health.

Throughout this year, concerns have been raised by the large number of health workers in Victoria who have contracted the virus. At one stage, up to 80 per cent of infected workers were believed to have contracted the virus in their workplaces.

According to The Age, there are suspicions that the virus may have spread through the air, infecting workers who had no direct contact with sick patients.

The audit also comes during more mainstream recognition of airborne transmission of COVID-19. At the end of October, Dr Maria Neira, WHO Director, Department of Public Health, Environmental and Social Determinants of Health, spoke on the WHO’s Science in 5 program about the role of ventilation in keeping homes, offices and schools safe from COVID-19.

“Ventilation represents a very important factor to prevent the virus from spreading indoors,” said Dr Neira. “In settings like schools, or working in spaces, or touristic spaces, what we are recommending is to increase the rate of air change, increase the rate of ventilation by natural ways or mechanical ones, always trying to avoid the recirculation of the air. And when you cannot avoid it, then having filters that are properly and regularly maintained and changed as needed.”

Earlier this year, the Human Services Building Authority conducted an Aerosol Hot Spot Analysis Study that identified potential “hot spots” in clinical spaces caused by aerosols coming to rest on surfaces.

Based on the findings from this study, new health technical advice guidance to enhance cleaning and infection control processes is being considered and will be released shortly.

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