Yes. While the District of Columbia, Maryland, Texas, and Virginia have ordered all non-essential business to temporarily close, COPT’s business is considered part of the critical infrastructure and, accordingly, we are continuing to operate. Our employees and key contractors responsible for the continuity of our business operations are considered essential.
COPT has been building to LEED specifications since 2003, and most of those LEED certified buildings are equipped with MERV 8 prefilters and MERV 13 filters. However, that point may be moot. There is no credible evidence to support claims that viable virus transmission can occur via distribution through building HVAC systems. Therefore, air filtration could not be expected to play any significant part in preventing the spread of COVID-19.
Specifically, MERV 13 filters are not effective. MERV 13 filters are designed to be approximately 75% efficient in capturing particles as small as 0.3 microns in diameter. COVID-19 has a diameter of 0.125 microns, or over 2 times smaller than the lowest filterable particle size.
Filters rated higher than MERV 13 can be counterproductive to system operation and performance. HVAC systems are designed to meet a building’s use and occupancy. Most HVAC systems in commercial office buildings are designed to use MERV 8 or 11 rated filters because the anticipated particle size to be captured are in the larger range of 3.0 to 10.0 microns. A typical office environment would not be expected to generate large quantities of smaller particles that you would find in manufacturing or other occupancy types.
Since better HVAC systems are designed to use MERV 8 or 11 filters, most equipment cannot handle a higher filtration rating as doing so would overtax the operation and further decrease the air handling efficiency. Therefore, it would be counterproductive to the intent.
High-efficiency air particulate (HEPA) systems are atypical in commercial office buildings. HEPA filtration is reserved for use in certain hospital environments, clean rooms and pharmaceutical operations. HEPA filters cannot be used in standard commercial office HVAC equipment.
HVAC systems in commercial office buildings are balanced to optimize the temperature, humidity, and air quality conditions for its occupants. Increasing outdoor air would only be necessary to help move large volumes of air in the event of an emergency, such as smoke or release of chemical vapors.
Outdoor air also introduces outdoor air particles, such as pollen, into the office environment which would significantly affect the indoor air quality for sensitized individuals. Occupants would sense a decrease in the system’s ability to keep temperature within the building in comfortable ranges because of low or high outdoor temperature or humidity.
Based on what we know today the virus is transmitted through droplets that are heavier than would be capable of being widely distributed through a building’s HVAC system. Even if it could be carried through the HVAC system, it is unlikely that it would be an infectious dose outside of a healthcare setting.
UV systems have not yet been proven to be any more effective at mitigating or preventing COVID-19 transmission than standard filtration. In fact, unless they were part of the original equipment design, the UV rays can cause significant damage to equipment.
Anti-viral surface coatings would not be totally effective and would be impractical. The flaw with anti-viral surface coatings that every surface that any individual may potentially contact will not be treated. For instance, applying such a coating on door handles or elevator buttons might work for those surfaces. However, these are just a few of the great many surfaces an individual may touch everyday such as photocopier buttons, coffee maker handles, employee workstations, etc.
The exposure pathways for COVID-19 is not limited to a person’s working environment. The disease can be caught and transmitted anywhere – inside grocery stores, while pumping gas or interacting with family members and friends, to name a few. Coating every potential touch point a person may encounter is not feasible.
Temperature screens are only effective in identifying individuals that are already symptomatic. Approximately 80% of those infected with COVID-19 are asymptomatic and are highly contagious.
COPT is not planning to add floor markers or signs restricting the use of entry and exit doors or elevator cabs. Every individual is responsible for abiding by best practices in maintaining social distance.
Avoiding exposure by practicing good non-pharmaceutical interventions (NPI) such as vigilant hand hygiene, face covering, wiping down of surfaces and objects that can transfer viruses from & to individuals and social distancing remain the best methods of stopping disease transmission until we have a more permanent solution, e.g., effective vaccine, herd immunity, etc. It is the responsibility of every individual to incorporate frequent hand washing, sneezing/coughing into your elbow, keeping 6 ft of distance from others, wearing face coverings or masks in public and staying home when not feeling well.
Follow CDC guidelines and preventative measures. Anyone capable of working remotely should do so.
The CDC published a community mitigation strategy document with guidance on mitigating the spread of the Coronavirus (COVID-19) in different settings (home, workplace, school, etc.). Other resources can be found on the following official websites:
Please visit the following websites for official information: