OR IS IS AN OUTBREAK WAITING TO HAPPEN?
The indoor air quality consulting business was pretty slow this summer, mainly because most office buildings have been empty. As things start to reopen, many building owners are looking for ways to protect their tenants when they return to their buildings. However, being a real estate professional doesn’t always equate to being an environmental professional. For example, a few weeks ago a property manager friend of mine asked to pick my brain about possible strategies to defend against COVID-19.
Over lunch, she revealed that her building’s owner had a knee-jerk reaction regarding new technology to address viruses in the building. Whenever the owner heard of a new preventive technology, through the media or otherwise, the property manager was asked to investigate. These requests changed weekly to include things like walk-on mats in front of entries, plastic coverings over elevator buttons, and special wipes to clean the elevators regularly. Just chasing these technologies became a full-time job.
There are plenty of options available and she didn’t know which way to turn. During lunch, I helped her sort through the many options available today. Every option has its own risks and its own rules. Here are some options you may be considering for our own building:
I think ultraviolet (UV) light is a good solution, but it’s not for every application. There is an intensity factor for UV light that creates a “kill zone.” The intensity of the light has to reach a certain level in order to inactivate viruses and bacteria. This means you cannot have a UV light on one end of the room and expect it to take care of viruses throughout the room. Viruses 20 feet away are not attracted to the UV light, so they may never make it to the UV light and may still remain viable.
Virucide is another good solution, but again, not for every occurrence. The EPA has a list of virucides, products that are known to kill COVID-19. Some of them are as simple as peroxide or bleach, but many of them are specific products that are designed to kill bacteria and viruses. When using a virucide, consider the following two critical factors:
Dwell Time • The first factor is dwell time. This is how long a product actually needs to sit on a surface in order to be effective. The dwell time can vary between products. In recent weeks, I have talked to a number of property managers about their cleaning strategy, and they tell me, “The cleaners spray this chemical on the surface, then wipe it off immediately.”
My response was, “Find out what they’re using and have them tell you what the dwell time is.” A virucide isn’t instantaneous. It needs to be given enough time to be effective.
I have a virucide that I’m really happy with. It has a dwell time of 10 minutes. This means if you spray it on a doorknob or a desk, that surface has to remain wet for 10 minutes for the virucide to do its full job. If you wipe it away before the dwell time is completed, the product is not guaranteed to be effective.
Unknown Chemicals • The other factor to consider when using a virucide is its impact on the environment. This is a huge concern for indoor air quality. If the product you’re using has toxic substances that fight viruses and bacteria, does it have any residual activity? Meaning, if a small amount of the product accidentally remains on a portion of a desk, will it harm someone if they touch it with their bare skin? What if they set a sandwich on the desk? Is there a chance of them ingesting something?
You have to know what negative health effects may result from a given product. In any building, a certain portion of people will have allergies or asthma, which means they have a compromised immune system already. Consider if they might have a negative reaction to the product. Additionally, if you’re using a virucide in a school, you need to be very aware of what you’re bringing into the building where young children will be.
Detailed cleaning is a good answer to cleaning surfaces that might have been infected. But, as we’ve discussed in precious articles, if no one is checking those surfaces, how do you know they’re clean?
INTERNAL SAFETY GUIDELINES
In an attempt to reduce the chances of spreading the virus, many buildings have created safety guidelines that people are expected to follow. Limiting elevator occupancy, wiping down surfaces, and checking people’s temperatures are a few common, reasonable approaches. However, they too come with drawbacks.
For example, experts vary in regard to how many people should be allowed in an elevator or how often surfaces need to be wiped down. There’s no strong research to give us a solid answer. Additionally, wiping down door handles in offices and restrooms every 30 minutes might be helpful, but it might not be cost-effective, as you have to pay a custodian more frequently. And if tenants request that surfaces be wiped down more frequently than that, the cost only goes up.
Additionally, if you are going to create safety protocols, you need to make sure they are enforced properly. I’ve been in buildings where my team was supposed to have our temperatures checked before entering, and an impatient receptionist rushed through the process without checking our temperatures at all. In one building, my team and I stepped out onto a floor and found a sign in the elevator lobby that asked occupants to disinfect the bottoms of their shoes with a nearby spray bottle. As we stood there, we watched two office workers step off the elevator, neither of them wearing masks, and walk into the space without spraying their shoes.
What’s the point of having safety guidelines like these if you’re not going to insist that your employees follow them? If the rules aren’t going to be followed, you might as well not post them.
I’ll be the first to admit that I don’t know everything about viruses or how to avoid them. But I can tell when “solutions” are really just smoke and mirrors. Not knowing what works, and what doesn’t, can cost you time, money, and peace of mind. Making decisions based on guesswork can be a far more costly solution than if you had just asked for help in the first place.
It’s a new learning environment for everyone — yes, that means