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There are people in this world who don’t know how to wear a face mask. (There are those who refuse to wear one in the first place, but that’s beside this point.) I’m talking about those who do not fully cover their nose and mouth with a mask that creates a tight seal to their face. There are also those people who wear a mask well, but intermittently. Alone in a room, they only put their mask on when another person approaches.
I often think about these people and the potentially virus-laden cloud of respiratory particles around them. As more schools bring students back and as facility managers work to make their buildings safe for occupants, I think about the imperfect mask wearers and I wish exhalations had color so it would be easier to see the issue at hand.
Improving indoor air quality has been a renewed focal point for facility managers everywhere. For this issue’s article on commercial offices, the facility managers I spoke with discussed improving air filtration and air exchange rates as one of the first strategies they undertook to respond to COVID-19. The Close Up article details what Rocky River City Schools in Ohio did to improve its IAQ as a response to the pandemic.
Technologies that scrub the air of harmful particulate matter, deactivate pathogens, and dilute indoor concentrations of carbon dioxide and other gases are fantastic and will benefit occupants long after the pandemic is over. Countless studies have shown how improvements in indoor air quality benefit cognition, alertness, and health.
But as the pandemic wears on, facility occupants shouldn’t be allowed to use the good interventions facility managers have put in place in the mechanical system as an excuse to get lax about the first layer of defense: proper mask usage for the entire time a person is in the building. As with any other indoor air pollutant, if you can’t remove the source, you contain it as best as possible and mitigate the rest.
Admittedly, this gets touchy and tricky. Facility manager’s can’t be the mask police, but working with HR and other key stakeholders they can create robust communication around mask requirements that will be the foundation for all the other layers of defense.
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