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As a new strain of coronavirus (COVID-19) swept through the world in 2020, preparedness plans, masking policies and more public policy changed just as quickly. WVXU has covered the pandemic's impact on the Tri-State from the very beginning, when on March 3, 2020, Ohio Gov. Mike DeWine barred spectators from attending the Arnold Sports Festival in Columbus over concerns about the virus, even though Ohio had yet to confirm a single case of COVID-19.

Ways To Keep Workplaces Safe From COVID-19

IoT Smart Sensing Maps from Siemens allows buildings to monitor movement of employees to figure out where best to sanitize, among other things.

As millions of Americans get ready to return to work the subject of "healthy buildings" has come up, and Cincinnati facility engineers are explaining what's involved.

Nobody is saying buildings have to be WELL certified (the equivalent of LEED but think employee health on top of energy efficiency). That could mean  more money than most companies have in this pandemic economy.

In a Cincinnati 2030 District sponsored event April 21, Siemens Building Technologies' Tim Foster and David Eslinger discussed individual steps businesses can take to ensure their facilities are healthy and promote wellness. Foster has specialized in building automation and energy efficiency for decades and Eslinger is an energy engineer with experience in building controls.

Foster suggests installing a smart sensor system to measure employee movement throughout the building. It would create a digital map. "It really gives you more actionable data. Instead of cleaning every restroom, let's say four times a day, maybe you can kind of spot the restrooms that have the most (use) and you can deploy your cleaning resources to where they are most likely to be effective."

Putting in hundreds of sensors would be expensive, but Foster suggests maybe the cost could be justified if  the sensors were also used to monitor building occupancy, access and theft.

What About Bringing In More Outside Air?

"Certainly you wouldn't want to go out and replace your HVAC system," Foster tells building managers, "unless there was some other compelling need but you would want to understand at least how you're bringing in outside air."

Without it, when somebody coughs the ventilation system moves those germs to another part of the building. So, Harvard's Joe Allen, who is an expert on healthy buildings, says the goal is to bring in 100% outdoor air with no recirculation. He tells facility managers if they have to recirculate air to have MERV or HEPA filters.

But it can go bad if you don't change the filters, says Siemens' David Eslinger. "I go into a lot of these places and the air filter has a maintenance tag that says it was inspected last week and it turns out that the inspector came by and because the fan speed was so low at that moment in time it passed but you open it up and it's obviously coated in grime. ... When you open it up it will break apart the filter."

Alternative Filtration Systems Are Likely To Gain Traction

Think ultraviolet light like hospitals use for sterilization or ionization.

"Not to say that's going to directly or indirectly help the COVID-19 situation but you may run into those applications," Foster says.

Facilitiesnet.com reports having clean buildings isn't enough. Communicating what you've done to employees will be key to inspire confidence and peace of mind. Foster says it's important to make human resources executives aware of healthy changes made.

With more than 30 years of journalism experience in the Greater Cincinnati market, Ann Thompson brings a wealth of knowledge and expertise to her reporting. She has reported for WKRC, WCKY, WHIO-TV, Metro Networks and CBS/ABC Radio. Her work has been recognized by the Associated Press and the Society of Professional Journalists. In 2019 and 2011 A-P named her “Best Reporter” for large market radio in Ohio. She has won awards from the Association of Women in Communications and the Alliance for Women in Media. Ann reports regularly on science and technology in Focus on Technology.