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US government launches National COVID-19 Plan

The US government has released its National COVID-19 Preparedness Plan, laying out a roadmap for dealing with the pandemic and getting back to more normal routines. It includes measures such as vaccination, accurate advice on the use of masks and PPE, and ongoing monitoring of the virus, as well as a focus on ventilation.

Strong measures on IAQ

A key pillar of the plan is preventing economic and educational shutdowns through better ventilation.

“Improvements to ventilation systems can maximize health outcomes,” reads the plan. “When indoors, effective ventilation strategies can help reduce viral particle concentration as well as other indoor air contaminants, which is why the Administration will continue to provide support in improved ventilation, so Americans can remain safely indoors as they proceed with their lives.”

The government has committed to provide clear guidance and recommendations all buildings can use to improve ventilation, and will call on building managers, building engineers, businesses, and organisations to take part in the Clean Air in Buildings Challenge – an initiative that promotes better ventilation in buildings, and the implementation of cost-effective ventilation and air filtration improvements across the country.

This will be supported by a Clean Air in Buildings Checklist. The checklist, published by the EPA, will provide a set of recommendations that can be undertaken in buildings to improve indoor air quality through effective ventilation and filtration practices.

Another action in the plan will be to support state, local, and Tribal governments as well as school districts to make ventilation improvements and upgrades using the $350 billion for state and local governments, as well as $130 billion for schools, which has been set aside for ventilation improvements and upgrades under the American Rescue Plan.

A holistic response

The plan has been applauded by IBEC – the Integrated Bioscience and Built Environment Consortium – for providing a holistic response.

“We commend the Administration’s efforts to sustain messaging campaigns that recognise and reinforce the need to establish powerful layers of protection and invest in the next generation of tools to stay ahead of this virus,” says IBEC. “We strongly agree with the priorities of the Administration to maintain and enhance the tools we have to protect against and treat COVID-19, with the inclusion of indoor air.”

Through the Commit to C.A.R.E. program, IBEC has partnered with AHIA and other associations to promote and disseminate a variety of free resources to keep indoor environments safe and mitigate the spread of pathogens. It was also designed to debunk myths about the spread of COVID-19.

“Consistent with the Plan, IBEC recommends integrated risk and exposure reduction training that supports workers with information accumulated through a comprehensive risk assessment process,” says IBEC Chief Science Officer Ken Martinez.

IBEC President Jayne Morrow says that mitigating the spread of SARS-CoV-2 and preparing for new variants will involve ongoing monitoring.

“We see a clear need for an integrated population-level biosurveillance program,” says Morrow, “that includes human diagnostic testing, human screening, biosurveillance at multiple scales including indoor spaces (surfaces and air), building scale (air and wastewater), campus or neighbourhood scale (wastewater from multiple buildings), and community/city-scale surveillance (sentinel locations).

“We are leading an international discussion on biosurveillance and how to achieve situational awareness of disease activity while providing early warning of emerging threats. ”

In terms of the ventilation measures, IBEC has praised the measures but also notes that there are challenges with giving schools, universities, businesses, and other facilities the tools to improve their ventilation. It notes that ventilation improvements are often major investments, and may be competing for resources with other work. IBEC has also recommended that attention be given to directional flows of air and the use of strategies based on healthcare concepts, such as airborne infection isolation rooms.

For more information on the US National COVID-19 Preparedness Plan, go to www.whitehouse.gov/covidplan/

For more information on the Commit to C.A.R.E. initiative, visit commit2care.org

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