As we move onto our 7th month of COVID-19 entering our lives, people are eager to start reopening their businesses. The CDC, Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, has been regularly posting updates and other information regarding COVID. We urge all our clients who are business owners to subscribe to all the CDC updates under their “For Employers & Businesses” page. Just recently, they put out an article explaining things to look out for when planning to reopen, and we’ve decided to summarize the main takeaways as it relates to design and construction modifications to your existing practice or new space.
HVAC Airflow and Ventilation
First big change is to update your HVAC to improve ventilation in the building. This also means incorporating as much natural air as possible, e.g., opening windows and doors and portable air circulation / filtering units to help with the airflow. According to the World Health Organization, “Ventilation is the intentional introduction of fresh air into a space while the stale air is removed. It is done to maintain the quality of air in that space.” Business owners are advised to speak to reputable MEP design firms and certified HVAC technicians to make sure their ventilation is designed properly and operates efficiently so that contaminated air doesn’t linger. If your practice is below ground or uses weaker HVAC systems, you may want to consider using ultraviolet germicidal irradiation (UVGI). For those who are unfamiliar with this system, the National Institute for Occupational Safety and Health (NIOSH) describes UVGI as “the use of ultraviolet (UV) energy (electromagnetic radiation with a wavelength shorter than that of visible light) to kill or inactivate viral, bacterial, and fungal species”. This can be an extra precaution if your space already has good ventilation, or can act as a necessary supplement if the air quality around you isn’t acceptable.
Make sure that all of your exhaust and return ducts are routed outside and do not re-circulate inside your space.
For an existing space, an affordable option instead of modifying your mechanical design and ductwork is to consider stand-alone HEPA filtration units or UV-C lights.
Above all else, make sure you have a service agreement with an HVAC company to regularly replace your air filters per the manufacturer’s recommendation. Liberty Group Construction always recommends to clients to have it done once a month for any commercial space.
Identifying Risks Of Reopening And Things To Ask Your Contractor:
With the practice re-opening, you should with a thorough “Hazard Assessment” to make sure you don’t miss anything when creating a safe workplace. This includes confirming that there is no mold or pests of any kind. Engage a trained professional who knows what they’re looking for so you can ensure a clean environment to re-start. To better enforce the 6-ft distance rule at all times, you can ask your contractor to install glass dividers between desks and to tape markings on the floor to both direct and spread out foot traffic. Make sure the contractor(s) coming to your space are aware of your concerns and the precautions set to maintain a clean area, such as mandatory masks in and around the office space to minimize the spreading of germs.
If you’d like to have professionals come in and renovate your space to add additional safety measures, make sure you’ve allotted enough time for contractors to come inspect the area, make their changes, and all while maintaining a limit of people in the office. Six (6) foot distancing between all occupants can be very difficult when your space is small and you have a lot of employees. This can cause even minor renovation work to take longer than originally anticipated. It’s the job of the business owners to make sure they’re monitoring how many people are in the office at a time by use of staggered schedules. For those who are in the office, establish procedures for temperature checks and confirm that everyone has access to disinfectants and are consistently taking the necessary precautions to comply with your plan.
Remember to keep these points in mind when considering reopening your practice or inviting your staff back into the office. And if you need any more information on COVID-19 or the new guidelines, check the CDC website. Finally, if you have any questions on HVAC design, divider walls, or any other changes that require speaking to a contractor, don’t hesitate to contact the HBC team to answer any of your questions.