Q&A: Airborne Infection Mitigation for coworking spaces with Jerome Chang

Welcome to the first recorded episode of Coworking Ops, a series on included.co’s blog where we invite an expert to deep dive into a topic plaguing thoughts and forums across the coworking world.

You can jump right in and watch or listen to the call, or start with the intro below.

Both streams do feature AI-generated transcriptions, so do let us know if you spot any issues.

A bit of background.

Over the last few weeks, the included ambassadors (and many others) have had ongoing discussions about whether or not COVID-19 is transferable via air particles, and if it is, how coworking spaces around the world can best adapt their mitigation strategies to best protect their customers, visitors, staff and loved ones.

recent article in The Atlantic makes the case for seriously and rapidly adding ventilation into our infection mitigation stacks for schools and workspaces.

The article states that “the super-spreader–event triad seems to rely on three V’s: venue, ventilation, and vocalization.”

And goes on to say that “However, to date, there is also no evidence of truly long-range transmission of COVID-19” and that researchers had recommended that it would be “better to call these ‘short-range aerosols,’ as that communicates the nature of the threat more accurately”.

It’s a fantastic, in-depth article, and one I’d recommend everyone take some time to read, but one note caught our attention and is what drove us to making this the first topic we dived into for these calls.

The article states that in July the disease was exploding in the southern United States, where people often went into air-conditioned spaces to avoid the sweltering heat.

And that worried us.

For this session I was joined by Jerome Chang, a licensed and still-practicing architect and owner of BLANKSPACES, and unanimously known as the friendliest guy in coworking.

The 'ultra-light' summary.

We’d recommend jumping straight to the video or audio versions, they’re full of great insights.

Jerome dropped a tonne of knowledge, insights and experience during the call, so def check that out if you can. If you can’t, we get it, and here’s just a few of the noteworthy things Jerome shared during the call:

  1.  Not only has he been in coworking for 13 years and is a practicing architect, but has a bachelor and masters in civil and structural engineering respectively.
  2. Given his three spheres of experience, he’s been researching, and sharing tips all over the coworking world about the risks of airborne infections in shared workspaces and how to prepare against them.
  3. Whilst not a perfect analogy, you can think of airborne diseases (even short-range ones) sort of like cigarette smoke. It’ll help think about how it could spread in a space.
  4. Blasting the AC gives the impression of something being done, but “you’re just mixing the pot of bad stuff”.
  5. Ventilation is the goal, not circulation.
  6. Something to keep in mind is the air change rate, ie how many times the whole volume of air changes within a room or enclosed space.  The ideal number is 6 changes per hour.
  7. Side-note: airplanes counterintuitively do 20+ airchanges per hour.
  8. A good way to measure air change is to check the carbon dioxide level. Lower count, means that air exhaled is changed out for oxygen.
  9. Air filtration, from an economic standpoint, is a diminishing return. ie the return on investment (ROI) is low for the huge cost of implementing the best filtration systems.
  10. Filters added to HVAC (or permanently installed AC systems) only filter air a) when it’s warm enough for them to be turned on, and b) when the outside air is circulated enough with the inside air.
  11. Adding the world’s best filters, onto old AC systems and having them run all day, every day could damage the systems and increase the maintenance required.
  12. When using portable air units, even the cheapest kinds, point them outwards (not inwards) to create negative pressure and to enable better air circulation.
  13. DO NOT zap humans with UVC filters.
  14. De-ionizers are good options (and act as bug zappers for air). Since they are often installed inside HVAC systems and ‘zap’ recirculated air, they effectively clean air only indirectly, after a long travel path, then returns to supply clean air to the room.
  15. With regards to winter, there are numerous studies on the affect of humidity on the virus particles. When heating the space, try not to dry it out, as that’s optimum for the effectiveness of the virus. 
  16. As for quick/cheap DIY best-practices? Shut meeting rooms to the public, keep doors and windows open before and after use of confined spaces, use a box stand to create cross-ventilation and heavily clean what’s being used most regularly (clean everything else too, but don’t go too crazy on costs here), recommend masks and social distancing. 
  17. Dividers are only really useful where there’s a close proximity interaction. Air can go around, above or below them. Oh, and a lot of people stand around desks chatting… that divider isn’t stopping those air particles.
  18. One final note, on design. There’s a backlash against office density, in much the same way as there was a backlash against open offices. When done poorly, it’s going to be bad for everyone.
Edit: Jerome just updated us that during winter the relative humidity inside shared workspaces should be 40%-60%.

To get all the insights, and learn from Jerome’s vast experience and research into this, have a listen or watch the full conversation below. 

Watch our call.

Listen to our call.

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