Can COVID-19 spread through HVAC systems? Canadian researchers seek to find out

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The novel coronavirus is mainly spread through close contact, but a group of mechanical engineers at a Canadian university are looking at a lesser-known possibility — airborne transmission.

Bringing safe and healthy air to spaces — everything from apartment buildings to schools to offices — is the central theme of the project, according to University of Alberta engineering professor Lexuan Zhong, who is leading the research.

She called the effort a “non-pharmaceutical intervention” that, if successful, could avoid “extensive consequences.”

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“It’s just as valuable as vaccine research,” she told Global News.

“Improving ventilation systems in high-occupancy structures could be a critical way to contain the pandemic… This work has the potential to impact millions of people living and working in these buildings.”

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The Alberta engineers are working in collaboration with the university’s faculty of medicine to better understand how viruses can travel through air currents. They want to come up with effective design upgrades or changes to standard heating, ventilation and air conditioning (HVAC) systems to foster guidelines that buildings across the country could adapt to.

It’s being funded by a $440,000 federal government grant from the Canadian Institutes of Health Research and Alberta Innovates.

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