Mitigating COVID-19 and Other Airborne Pathogens in Stores

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Mitigating COVID-19 and Other Airborne Pathogens in Stores

By Brandon Marzley - 12/09/2020

Retailers across the country are looking for ways to improve their HVAC systems and internal air quality in response to the COVID-19 pandemic. 

When it comes to maintaining air quality and mitigating airborne pathogens like COVID-19 inside retail facilities, there is no one size fits all solution. Every retailer can determine the right control measures for their unique building and circumstances by taking steps to understand their facility. 

The first critical step is to perform a risk assessment of the building. An effective assessment starts with a comprehensive evaluation of building systems and the identification of high-risk areas.

Retailers should then consider the occupancy type of the building, the maintenance implications of the various options, and how much they want to invest in the initial cost and future operating costs. 

Once we perform the risk assessment and talk through the other areas of consideration, we ask our retail clients if they want a temporary fix for the current situation or a permanent solution for their facility. 

Temporary control measures such as portable air cleaners and operating changes to the existing HVAC system will focus on the current pandemic. Operating changes might include increasing ventilation, keeping systems fully operational for 24 hours, or using humidifiers in the facility. 

These control measures are frequently used by retailers looking to make limited impacts on their facility and budgets and are not in need of a long-term solution. 

On the other hand, permanent control measures not only assist with the current COVID pandemic but may also help with future viruses (ex. flu season) and will improve the overall air quality for the long run. Such measures generally include improved ventilation, enhanced filtration systems, bipolar ionization, and adding germicidal ultraviolent light to the airstream. 

These solutions often have a larger impact to the facility’s existing HVAC systems and a higher initial cost but can offer long-term solutions for future uses and concerns. 

When making these choices, it is recommended that retailers seek help from an architectural engineering firm that is independent of any manufacturers or contractors.

This way, retailers can take advantage of the firm’s experiences with all types of facilities and ensure their needs are being met without product bias. Here at GPD we have been using our experience in designing healthcare facilities to help our retail clients find solutions that are reasonable and effective in solving their air quality needs. 

No matter which control measure option is chosen by a retailer, it is important to follow the CDC’s findings as they relate to COVID in addition to the industry standards laid out by experts such as the American Society of Heating Refrigeration and Air Conditioning Engineers (ASHRAE), the health department, and the EPA. 

Brandon Marzley, PE is the mechanical engineering department head at GPD Group, a nationally licensed full-service architectural and engineering firm delivering services in more than 20 sectors, including retail, from 14 nationwide offices.

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