Don't Go Back to Work If Your Office Doesn't Have This One Thing

Here's why businesses must improve building ventilation to stop the spread of coronavirus.

With businesses reopening across the country, those of us who have been working from home might be asked to return to the office—or at least to consider it. As you navigate all the ways to stay healthy amid the coronavirus pandemic, you might be left wondering how risky it is to be in an office right now, and whether there are steps your employer could be taking to make your workplace safer. According to a study published by the journal City and Environment Interactions on May 28, there's at least one thing businesses need to have—improved building ventilation to help stop the spread of coronavirus.

The study—which comes from scientists at the University of Surrey's Global Centre for Clean Air Research (GCARE)—suggests that COVID-19 could be spread by airborne transmission, and that's an especially risky proposition in environments without adequate ventilation. When people talk, cough, or sneeze, their respiratory droplets, potentially harboring coronavirus, linger in the air. Over time, virus particles could build up, especially in areas that are densely populated, like offices. Improving building ventilation may go a long way toward protecting workers from coronavirus.

"An improved indoor ventilation is an important step that can be taken to reduce the risk of infection," Prashant Kumar, director of GCARE, said in a statement. "More must be done to recognize and understand airborne transmission of COVID-19 and similar viruses, to minimize the build-up of virus-laden air in places typically containing high densities of people."

two female office workers wearing face masks greeting each other by touching elbows

The GCARE study also advocates for the use of face masks in these indoor environments: Face masks are designed to prevent the wearer from spreading their respiratory droplets. In conjunction with improved building ventilation, they can help reduce the amount of coronavirus particles in the office air.

In their "COVID-19 Employer Information for Office Buildings" guidelines, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) echoes the study's conclusions, saying that the first step in resuming building operations is to "ensure that ventilation systems in your facility operate properly." The CDC also recommends that offices "increase circulation of outdoor air as much as possible by opening windows and doors, using fans, and other methods."

While there is still so much we don't know about COVID-19 and its transmission, these actionable steps could provide some degree of comfort for employers who want to keep their workers safe, and for employees who are making the transition back to office life. As the GCARE study concludes, "Appropriate action today can support proper preparation for the months ahead until a vaccine becomes available and could minimize the loss of life."

And for more ways offices will change to stop the spread of coronavirus, check out these 5 Things You'll Never See in Your Office Again After Coronavirus.

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