Best Practices for Minimising COVID-19 Transmission in the Built Environment

Researchers from the CDC's MicrobeNet and the University of Oregon analyzed information on “common pathogen exchange pathways and mechanisms."
Courtesy Biology and the Built Environment Center at the University of Oregon

This article first appeared in ARCHITECT.

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. While the paper is currently under review by both the open-access journal Nature Communications and the research publication platform Preprints.org, the authors have published the report online to make the information available as soon as possible given COVID-19’s rapid spread.

Courtesy NIAID IRF
NIAID IRFImage 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—such as buildings, roads, public transport—can speed the transmission of pathogens like COVID-19 because it forces close interaction between individuals, features 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, lower humidity levels, proper lighting and exposure to daylight, and attention to the spacial configuration that might discourage social interactions as options for minimizing the transmission of COVID-19’s viral particles.

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