With the outbreak of a new Coronavirus in China (2019-nCoV) and the few cases in Australia, we have already had several queries asking what building managers of commercial properties should do about this. The main questions we have been asked are regarding changing air handling unit filters and if this will make a difference. Coronavirus would be much too small to be filtered out by an air conditioning filter so this is unlikely to make a difference.
There is a lot we don’t know about this virus at the moment, such as exactly how it is spread, where it came from, and if some people are more at risk than others. Other coronavirus types also cause respiratory infections and have been circulating in the human population for many years. These other types cause illness that ranges from the common cold to (rarely) more serious illness, and are usually spread when people don’t cover their nose and mouth after sneezing, and when they don’t wash their hands properly when ill.
The Department of Health current information states that spread of the virus is more likely through direct contact with an infected person, contacts with droplets from coughs and sneezes from an infected person and from touching surfaces (for example door knobs or tables) contaminated by droplets from secretions coughed or sneezed from a person with a confirmed infection and then touching your nose or face.
Current prevention advice from the Australian Dept. Health, the World Health Organisation and the Centre for Disease Control in the US is to wash your hands regularly with soap and water for at least 20 seconds, cover your mouth when coughing or sneezing (then wash your hands), avoid touching your eyes, nose and mouth with unwashed hands and to avoid close contact with people who are sick. Alcohol hand rubs can also be used for cleaning hands.
So what can you do as a property manager? There are unlikely to be any engineering controls that can be put in place at the moment that will help in a commercial property. Making sure that there are always good supplies of soap and towels in all washrooms and that your property stays clean and has a regular cleaning schedule are the main important points at this stage.
We have had queries from customers who have been contacted by people trying to sell ‘special’ air conditioning filters guaranteed to ‘kill coronavirus’. With what we know about the virus so far, and with what we know about coronavirus in general, these are very unlikely to work. Even if the virus was in contact with any anti-microbial coating on a filter long enough to deactivate it as it is flowing through on a current of air, once the filters have even a thin layer of dust on them, the virus will not be able to be in contact with the anti-microbial coating at all to be inactivated. Current advice from the Australian Health Department and the World Health Organisation do not currently recommend any type of air filtering as a preventative measure. Even if the filters do work, if people in the building are still coughing, sneezing and not washing their hands, then filtering the air will not have a large impact.
While technologically advanced sounding engineering solutions for issues such as this are often expected by the public, and can make people feel better that something is being done, the really boring, old-fashioned soap and water, and washing your hands is usually the most effective prevention for most types of infectious disease!
If you have been contacted by anyone who is sick and think they may have the virus, the best place to go for advice on what to do is to phone your doctor (prior to visiting the surgery), and also visit the Department of Health website, https://www.health.gov.au/health-topics/novel-coronavirus-2019-ncov#information-for-the-public. The local state Department of Health is also the best place for advice if an infected person has been at work and may have exposed others.
There is already a lot of misinformation out there on the web already, so here is a link to some reliable sources of information as it becomes available.
We will keep you updated as further developments unfold, but always bear in mind that the numbers of cases in Australia at present are very low with seven confirmed cases at present. The virus has a lower death rate than influenza, Australia has seen very few cases, it is being controlled and managed, and Australia has some of the best biohazard responses and management structures in the world in place.
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