As the world continues to deal with the COVID-19 pandemic, hospitals and healthcare facilities are looking to lab equipment manufacturers and lab design experts to develop and build safe, secure spaces where patients can be tested and treated. Not only must these facilities mitigate further spread of coronavirus throughout the building, but they must also maintain a secure environment for healthcare workers who are exposed to dozens or perhaps hundreds of potentially ill people every day. Existing spaces must be repurposed to accommodate these new concerns, and air control systems play a crucial role in keeping everyone as healthy as possible.
Matt Gaedtke, segment manager of Greenheck Group, tells Lab Manager that pressure levels are of vital importance in containing the spread of a virus. “For our equipment, and for a lab especially in isolation rooms, the HVAC system will be set up to create negative pressure in those spaces and particularly the isolation room. If you bring an infected person into that space, they’ll want to contain germs from that person in that space,” he says. He adds that healthcare facilities can set up a unit, measuring about 10 feet tall, that creates a stack of air and ejects it out of the building. The stack, says Tony Rossi, vice president of marketing at Greenheck, is essentially “a column of high velocity air to get that contaminated exhaust that could have viruses in it away from the roof of the building.”
Rossi continues that facilities should have an air system, which can be basically summarized as having three areas: a makeup air system to do the heating, cooling, and filtering of makeup air; exhaust fan systems; and systems to control pressurization and air flow control. “From a pressurization or airflow control standpoint, you want to keep those areas under negative pressure also—negative pressure rooms for storing sterile gowning and masks, as well as the area that the workers would wind up putting them on. You don’t want those areas to be infected by a virus either,” he says.
Air systems such as these have been explored for hospitals and healthcare facilities around the US, as well as non-traditional facilities such as dorms and hotels that have been converted to care centers. Getting everything up and running quickly, says Rossi, is key: “The immediate nature of being able to build a facility, either temporary or permanent, under the situation that we’re in ... it seems to be the right way to go. Hopefully these are going to wind up being temporary facilities. The temporary facilities are brought up online obviously a lot faster than retrofitting an existing facility.” Short-term, modular healthcare facilities, he says, may be the most “rational” way to deal with the outbreak, especially as hotspots pop up around the country.
Gaedtke adds, The biggest thing we’ve been able to do is figure out how to expedite product, whether it’s for a hospital or a pop-up. A lot of this product isn’t stock—it’s custom-built, based on the specification for these facilities.” Turnaround times in some instances have been drastically shortened from seven to nine weeks, down to eight days. Design teams determine which products can be made and shipped faster than others, Rossi and Gaedtke say, in order to meet demand and provide care.