Courtesy Biology and the Built Environment Center at the University of Oregon

Researchers from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention's online pathogen identification database MicrobeNet and the Biology and the Built Environment (BioBE) Center at the University of Oregon in Eugene, Ore., have expediently published a paper outlining transmission pathways of COVID-19 in the built environment, hoping to provide the industry guidance on minimizing the virus’s spread.

Researchers began drafting the paper “2019 Novel Coronavirus (COVID-19) Outbreak: A Review of the Current Literature and Built Environment (BE) Considerations to Reduce Transmission” last week, synthesizing a decade's worth of MicrobeNet and BioBE Center information on “common pathogen exchange pathways and mechanisms,” according to the abstract. The paper is currently under review, but is published at Preprints to make the information available as soon as possible given COVID-19’s rapid spread.

Courtesy NIAID IRF
NIAID IRF Image of COVID-19 released by NIH

The team of researchers—which includes Kevin Van Den Wymelenberg, director of the University of Oregon's Energy Studies in Buildings Laboratory and also a contributor to ARCHITECTURAL LIGHTING—examined how the built environment, including buildings, roads, and public transport, can speed the transmission of pathogens like COVID-19. These types of spaces and infrastructure force close interaction between individuals, host objects and materials that can transmit the disease, and can facilitate the airborne transfer of viral pathogens. High occupant density can further the spread of pathogens, with confined spaces often encouraging social interaction and direct contact between individuals. By clearly understanding these variables, the paper’s authors hope that individuals responsible for building operations can make informed decisions on preventative measures, such as social distancing and disinfecting surfaces with solutions containing 62% to 71% ethanol.

The researchers also highlighted the importance of proper HVAC ventilation practices, maintaining interior relative humidity levels to between 40% and 60%, proper lighting and exposure to daylight, and spacial configurations that might discourage social interactions as options for minimizing the transmission of COVID-19’s viral particles.

The full draft of the article can be downloaded at Preprints. This article has been updated to clarify that the building interiors should have relative humidity levels between 40% and 60%.

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