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Hotel quarantine ventilation back in the spotlight

The most recent outbreak of COVID-19 in Victoria has brought renewed attention to ventilation systems in hotel quarantine.

The new wave of cases began when a Victorian man returned to Melbourne after spending 14 days in the Playford medi-hotel in Adelaide. Although he initially returned a negative result, he later tested positive, and it has since been confirmed via genomic testing that he contracted the virus from a positive case in an adjacent room in the hotel.

Last year’s Adelaide outbreak that prompted a statewide lockdown also originated at a quarantine hotel – the Peppers Waymouth Hotel – and underlined the potential for virus-laden aerosols to escape from guests’ rooms, into the corridors, and into other rooms. South Australia’s Chief Public Health Officer Nicola Spurrier indicated that aerosols were again the cause of the latest breach.

Spurrier noted that the two rooms between which the transmission event occurred are at the end of a corridor and that although the ventilation when reviewed was up to standard, “it may be that there was less change of air because of being at the end of a corridor”.

Replaying CCTV footage, staff noted that there were two occasions on a particular day when the infected guest opened his door to get food. A short time afterwards the man in the next room opened his door.

“Once was less than 30 minutes, once was less than 12 minutes,” said Spurrier. “Even though it seems a relatively long time between, it is possible that you could still have aerosol and opening the door could have brought that person who was not infected in contact.”

Experts in ventilation and pathogen control have been calling for dedicated quarantine facilities like those in Howard Springs since last year. Although Victoria has identified a site for such a development, the state and federal governments are still in talks over funding and building of the facility.

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