Q&A: Hospital Ventilation Designed to Thwart COVID

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Paula J. Olsiewski, PhD: “Healthcare workers at hospitals are always concerned about the air because historically, we know many disease agents are transmitted through the air, whether it’s measles or tuberculosis. Those appear on the scene long before COVID-19.”

Believe it or not, it could have been worse, Paula J. Olsiewski, PhD, a contributing scholar at the Johns Hopkins Center for Health Security tells Infection Control Today®. Olsiewski has held many positions at many institutions including the Environmental Protection Agency, the Department of Homeland Security and the Alfred P. Sloan Foundation where she procured 230 grants totaling $150 million to support research by indoor air scientists and engineers. Olsiewski points out that hospitals follow ventilation guidelines set forth by the American Society of Heating, Refrigerating and Air-Conditioning Engineers (ASHRAE). “Hospitals have been well prepared for, say tuberculosis,” Olsiewski tells ICT®. “And that’s not a nice disease to get. We’ve had recent measles outbreaks, because of people’s reluctance to give their children the vaccine. Again, that has been a challenge to our healthcare system. But the hospitals generally are well designed.”

Olsiewski argues that one of the problems with fighting coronavirus disease 2019 (COVID-19), especially at the beginning, is that “medical doctors who are doing a fabulous job, during this pandemic, are not experts in fluid dynamics, they are not up to date on the most recent literature for how viruses flow…. This pandemic started last December, but the World Health Organization did not recognize aerosol transmission until sometime in the summer. The US Centers for Disease Control and Prevention did not recognize the airborne transmission until October.”

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