Air filtration and home ventilation reduce risk of spreading coronavirus, OSU researchers report

4 Your Health

COLUMBUS (WCMH) — During the COVID-19 pandemic, we face daily decisions regarding risks in settings such as classrooms, public transportation, holiday shopping and family gatherings.

Scientists have been developing models that offer guidance regarding the probability of spreading the virus through airborne transmissions of infectious particles.

Virus particles travel as tiny droplets, or aerosols, that float in the air for minutes to a few hours. Larger particles propelled by sneezing or coughing fall more quickly to the ground, often landing on surfaces that we could potentially come in contact with.

The coronavirus (SARS-CoV-2) is known to spread through concentrated plumes of respiratory aerosols and contaminated surfaces, where particles can reside for up to two days.

Air-cleaning technology includes the use high-quality filters, and some restaurants have incorporated ultraviolet light to destroy virus cells. In the home, better air circulation includes opening windows when the weather is mild to better exchange outside air.

Andy May, an Ohio State University assistant professor of civil, environmental and geodetic engineering, recommends placing portable air cleaners in rooms, where we spend the most time. May said, “To clean the air, we can ventilate … opening the windows or running the whole house exhaust fan, if you have one.”

Furnace filters catch and gather dust and allergens, which makes the air we breath indoors healthier, but most air filters are not capable of collecting particles containing the infectious virus.

The efficiency rating, or MERV (Minimum Efficiency Reporting Value), is determined by how effectively a filtration system removes harmful particles from an air stream. Higher ratings indicate that a unit is capable of trapping more aerosols.

Credit: U.S. EPA

Ohio State University researchers advise homeowners include portable air cleaners and high-efficiency furnace filters on your holiday shopping list, always following the recommendations of the manufacturer.

For forced-air heating and cooling systems, May suggests using “higher efficiency furnace filters” (like a MERV-13), which can help remove very small particles from the air. “If you aren’t sure of your system’s capability, it may be best to check with an HVAC professional.”

May noted that if your residential home heating and cooling unit has limitations such as those that do not move air through ducts, explore portable air cleaning units that tend to have HEPA filters, which are even more efficient at removing particles than MERV-13 filters.

“Purchase the right unit for the space that someone is trying to clean,” May said. The U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) publishes guidance on choosing the right portable air cleaner.

Health experts strongly advise that families continue to follow guidelines such as washing hands, wearing masks, and maintaining physical space through distancing. “We also need to ensure adequate ventilation in order to remove particles containing the virus from the air,” May added.

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