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APPA COVID-19 Message Following the May 29, 2020 APPA Town Hall

June 1, 2020

headshot of Lander Medlin

An occasional blogpost from Lander Medlin, APPA’s Executive Vice President

In the Trenches: Cleaning Protocols & HVAC/MEP Systems Requirements

June 1, 2020 — Higher Education institutions, K-12, and Preparatory Schools have started to weigh in on a fall reopening amidst continued concerns of large gathering virus transmission.

Since my last message two weeks ago, America is now mourning the loss of more than 100,000 people to this novel coronavirus. A towering death toll!  Put in perspective, 100,000 people is perhaps 10 times the total number of people most of us will cross paths with in our entire lives. Put another way, one in seven people know someone who has died with it. In one word – HORRIFIC!

Every state is slowly creeping out of crippling lockdowns and attempting to manage their daily outbreaks. Many are done with this virus. Unfortunately, this virus is NOT done with us! Clearly institutions reopening plans have taken into account the critical need for aggressive testing, contact tracing, treatment, and an efficacious vaccine. Yet, social/physical distancing still remains our most effective tool for deterrence, and many are adding face coverings as well. We cannot become complacent. We are nowhere near the end of this pandemic.

The impact on the economy continues to deepen. Another 2.1M jobless claims were filed this past week, bringing the three-month tally to more than 40M people – the equivalent of more than 1 in 4 workers. In fact, 40% of these lost jobs are predicted to become permanent losses. The hunger crisis continues to worsen. Now, we are coming to grips with a hidden child abuse crisis which is gut wrenchingly sad!

The coronavirus is taking a steep toll on our industry, our students, and our respective faculty and staff – our very way of life. With so many unknowns, what do we know? The latest report from NAFSA (Association of International Educators) estimates losses of more than $4.5B for the higher education industry without federal legislative aid intervention. The number of colleges and universities at risk of closure is now hinted at 500.

The Chronicle of Higher Education is still citing that about 67% of higher education institutions are moving to a full face-to-face reopening this fall, which two-thirds of students surveyed desire. College and university presidents continue a warranted concern about the issue of fall enrollment given fewer high school students applying for financial aid. With the CDC’s warning of a 2nd wave during flu season this fall, many higher education institutions are taking the warning seriously and choosing to close their fall semester as of Thanksgiving break.

Although institutions are getting pretty creative, it’s still like driving through a dense fog…you just have to keep moving! To help us keep moving, we engaged three stellar panelists for APPA’s 10th Town Hall to speak about cleaning protocols and building systems operations requirements. Frankly, these operations requirements fall squarely in our management space. We must get them right to ensure our community can go about their business safely and securely. Their perception is real and must be managed well.

Allen Boyette, North Carolina State University
Joel Primeau, J.L. Richards
Taft Waldon, North Carolina State University

Highlights from the Town Hall follow:

  • Procuring PPE supplies and equipment (e.g., face coverings, hand sanitizer, sanitizer stations, disinfectant wipes, chemical disinfectant solutions for both quick-kill and long-action applications, and electrostatic sprayers/foggers) remain a challenging task, as we learned from the survey results with 78% answering ‘yes.’ Many institutions are making their own sanitizer product and stations.
  • Face coverings are mandatory for NC State facilities staff. That movement is growing throughout our campuses and, in time, may include the larger campus community as well.
  • Institutions are providing disinfecting stations and supplies at designated building entrances.
  • Institutions are considering disinfecting high-touch surfaces between classes if, and only if, it is practical from a resource standpoint and from a class staggering scheduling standpoint. If not, most are providing detailed cleaning in the early morning hours. Staggered shifts are inevitable.
  • Communication remains the key to ensure the campus community is educated regarding cleaning tasks frequencies and protocols, HVAC/MEP systems standards are addressed, and expectations are clear.
  • Facilities staff must model the protocols and behaviors they expect from the larger community. These behaviors positively impact the community’s perception of a safe and healthy environment.
  • Since most systems (ventilation, air-conditioning, plumbing) have been dormant, run them through the paces, test, clear stagnant water to avoid potential equipment failures (including fans, pumps, chillers, boilers, filters, automation systems controls and their calibration; temperature and pressure sensors tweaked along with schedules and set points). Inspect what you expect!
  • To minimize the risk of virus spread, operate your fans continuously to flesh out your buildings and introduce maximum outside air inside the occupied space to help air quality and bring down concentration of chemical odors in the building.
  • Transmission of the virus is greater in dry air, so is the ability of human beings to fight the infection (Harvard Medical School research). Therefore, relative humidity should be between 40-60%, then virus spread is minimized. Pay attention to this balance in different geographic climates in order to trade-off the risk between creating mold and dealing with COVID.
  • With respect to outdoor air intake (a complicated set of calculations), it is recommended to go above the minimum calculation requirement from ASHRAE Technical Standard 62.1.
  • Review ASHRAE Technical code 52.1, Indoor Air Quality Standards. Important to have an engineer evaluate your system accordingly.
  • 40% surveyed said they are planning system improvements to improve facilities and better address the challenge.
  • Analyze renovations or upgrades carefully and don’t rush your decisions, as they will be expensive, time-consuming, and potentially long term. Remember there are no silver bullet solutions.
  • May want to improve filtration to at least ASHRAE MERV rating #13 or 14, or could handle by putting systems back to their original design performance standard.
  • Review use of better diffusers to improve the overall ventilation and dilution effectiveness of your space, thereby ensuring outside air makes it to occupant’s faces and noses. Can also drop ceiling returns with an extension to the floor.
  • First and foremost, assess the condition and suitability of your spaces to deliver safe working and living environments.
  • Your HVAC/MEP systems are part of a holistic approach and alone will not solve the real issues related to this pandemic.
  • Establish a checklist/summary chart/rating system so system checks and protocols are not missed and use it to communicate with key stakeholders to set expectations. By doing so, they become campus community advocates.
  • Engage campus leadership as a partner so you are fully integrated in the planning process(s). Your role is critical to add value and show the importance of the facilities team in meeting the institution’s needs.
  • Must communicate the importance of both individual AND institutional responsibilities for combating COVID.
  • Dedensifying space is a challenge and requires both academic and student affairs leadership around class scheduling and program decision-making.
  • Recognize the need to protect both the student (low risk) and faculty (high, at-risk) populations. To address, develop prototypes for classroom setups for broad-based buy-in before setting institution-wide standards.
  • Recognize the importance of branding everything you do so it presents a professional image for your institution.

This pandemic feels a bit like the movie Groundhog Day, where the protagonist (Bill Murray) is stuck in a loop living the same day over and over and over, with time becoming meaningless. Supposedly a comedy…at the time…it’s actually a bit of a horror film!  And, the central torment is UNCERTAINTY – “When, oh when, will it all be over?”  Remember, that all this uncertainty isn’t all in your head. There really is a lot we don’t know about the virus, the crisis it has created, what decisions will be made, and how this will all shake out. There is no playbook!

Yet, this week we are not only plagued by our present circumstances of a global pandemic. We are also plagued by what has been with us for 400 years – widespread racial inequality. We cannot, we must not go back. We are in difficult, but not insurmountable, times. We can be better. Let’s do this together.

E. Lander Medlin
APPA Executive Vice President

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