Air Conditioning and COVID-19

As medical experts come to understand more about COVID-19, attention has focused on the role air conditioning can play in mitigating the spread of the coronavirus.

Experts agree that the most important strategies to limit COVID-19 infection are face masks, social distancing, and washing hands, and all three play key roles in the NCS Close Apart plan. In addition, NCS has improved climate-control systems in Hearst Hall, Woodley North, and Whitby Hall to further reduce any risk of COVID-19 transmission.

When infected people talk, cough, sneeze, or even breathe, they can release respiratory droplets that carry coronavirus. These virus-laden droplets can be contained by masks, but if a few escape, they can become airborne and be pulled into an HVAC (heating, ventilation, and air conditioning) system. A high-efficiency filter, with a MERV 13 rating or higher, can remove these virus particles as the system circulates the air.

NCS is upgrading HVAC filters to MERV 13, the most efficient that fit our systems. Portable HEPA filter systems, which also increase ventilation and filtration in classrooms, have been added in Hearst and Whitby halls.

Systems are inspected periodically, filters are changed according to manufacturer recommendations, and duct systems are cleaned periodically. All are procedures recommended by the American Society of Heating, Refrigerating and Air-Conditioning Engineers (ASHRAE).

Ultraviolet disinfection is a further safeguard against airborne transmission of virus particles. Such equipment is already installed in primary air-handling units in academic buildings.

Introducing fresh air from outdoors is another way to enhance ventilation, and classrooms and offices in Hearst and Whitby halls have windows that open. Climate-control systems are being updated to bring in additional outside air and to flush the building at night.

NCS is also looking into whether and how classes may meet outdoors. A separate page contains more on this topic.

More information about Health and Safety