The California Department of Public Health, in partnership with Cal/OSHA, has prepared COVID-19 Industry Guidance for Institutions of Higher Education that outlines several ways in which colleges and universities can help limit the spread of COVID-19 to faculty, staff, and students.  Ventilation in campus buildings is one way to help.

The guidance states that buildings should introduce as much fresh outdoor air as possible.  This is achieved by opening windows, or running mechanical ventilation systems on settings that allow 100% outdoor air (or as much as possible).  Additionally, it can help to reduce air recirculation via mechanical systems, and to install higher rated air filters where feasible.

Campus buildings that have mechanical ventilation have been adjusted to provide nearly 100% outdoor air with minimal air recirculation.  Air filters meet standards for general building ventilation; some higher rated filters have been installed in buildings designated as cleaner air shelters for wildfire smoke events.  Windows can be opened by building managers, or those that control department spaces where windows are located.

The benefit of increasing fresh air ventilation in campus buildings is two-fold.  One is to provide good ventilation when using cleaning agents and disinfectants, and the other is to more or less dilute the presence of viral particles in the air.

Portable room air cleaners with HEPA filters that are appropriately located in the room and specified for the room size can be beneficial however in most cases it will not be possible for the campus to provide them due to the high cost to purchase and maintain them.

Devices that blow air across a room, such as floor fans and wall-mounted fans, are not recommended for use since they can direct potentially contaminated air from a carrier of COVID-19 toward other room occupants.  Fans alone do not increase ventilation, they merely move existing air around a space.  Even air cleaner devices can create room currents that could direct untreated air toward others.  Wall-mounted air-conditioning units provided in some rooms across campus should not be used since they recirculate existing room air after chilling it down.

Rooms that have poor ventilation should be avoided, or used on a limited basis.  Through the efforts of our dedicated Facilities Services department, mechanical ventilation systems are maintained in good operating condition.  However, repairs may occasionally be needed, in which case Facilities Services can be contacted for assistance at (510) 642-1032.

It’s important to keep in mind that adjustments to mechanical ventilation systems and opening windows are just one part of a larger set of guidelines to reduce the risk of COVID-19.  Everyone’s cooperation to follow established COVID-19 guidance is essential, such as staying home when sick, practicing good personal hygiene and physical distancing, wearing face coverings, and cleaning and disinfecting surfaces.  Together we can make a difference.