Remember back to March 2020 – when all venues were shut down and the event industry came to a halt.
The initial health advice was that COVID-19 was spread by contaminated surfaces and close contact with droplets. This led to health advice to wear a mask, keep “socially distant” and to wash/disinfect our hands and surfaces.
Then as venues gradually reopened they had hand sanitiser available for patrons as they entered – most venues I’ve been to lately still have them. But what is the point?
But then researchers began talking about aerosol transmission beyond two metres. This was reported by Dr Noman Swan on the ABC Health Report in July 2020 when he spoke to Lidia Morawska, Professor of Atmospheric Sciences and Environmental Engineering at Queensland University of Technology.
Dr Swan has since been a vocal advocate for air monitoring in venues, including at Get Local in February 2022 where he told the audience
“We should be much more aware of ventilation. So as event managers, you need to ask difficult questions of the venues, convention centres tend to be much better because they’ve known for years if their ventilation rates aren’t high enough you get drowsy in the environment.”
“High ceilings, lots of air exchanges – that’s what you’ve got to think about and venues all over the place are working that out. What they should be doing is actually measuring the CO2 levels when you’ve got a full room to see what they are.”
My interest in this matter was piqued again last week when on ABC Insiders program Karen Middleton (The Saturday Paper) referred to an article in the scientific journal EOS and the fact there are few air quality regulations for venues in Australia.
I forwarded the article to a number of venues and asked for their response – those I have received so far are below.
But first, here are the introductory paragraphs to the EOS article …
Knowing that an invisible, infectious virus may be lingering in the air of a stuffy room is an unsettling thing.
But even more unsettling is not knowing it could be there.
At the beginning of the COVID-19 pandemic, much of the world was unaware the SARS-CoV-2 coronavirus could be transmitted through the air. Following public health guidance, we dutifully washed our hands and kept our distance; some of us disinfected surfaces and even our groceries.
But the coronavirus was not just transmitted through short-range droplets emitted through coughing or sneezing.
Aerosol and atmospheric scientists from around the world were the first to sound the alarm on airborne transmission of coronavirus: Fine aerosol particles carrying the virus could linger and accumulate in the air for minutes to hours. Anyone sharing the space—even if they were farther away than the social distancing standard of 2 meters (6 feet)—could be at risk for inhaling these infected air particles.
But even before we began masking and avoiding crowded spaces, bad indoor air quality was already responsible for millions of deaths and debilitating health issues. And though we spend 90% of our time indoors, there is generally a lack of appreciation and awareness of the importance of the air around us. The composition of our indoor air matters to our health, whether it contains novel coronavirus or pollutants. But unlike outdoor air, the quality of the air we breathe indoors is not regulated.
If water is contaminated, we can still purchase bottled water, said Lidia Morawska, a physicist at Queensland University of Technology in Australia who runs an air quality lab specializing in airborne particulate matter. “But we have absolutely no choice on air we breathe. And we breathe continuously: If we stopped breathing for 3 minutes, we’ll die. That’s the importance of indoor air quality,” she said.
Read the full article here: Indoor Air Pollution in the Time of Coronavirus
And now to the responses:
Darryl Jeffrey, General Manager, Sydney Showground
The potential transmission of COVID-19 through indoor air conditioning systems has been on our radar since we re-opened following the forced closures in 2020.
As you point out, currently we do not have any specific direction from NSW Government regarding expectations regarding air quality relating to COVID-19 transmission. Current advice from NSW HEALTH is as follows:
Optimise ventilation systems (for example, maximise the intake of outside air, avoid recirculation of air, and consult an expert).
Maintain ventilation systems to ensure they’re working well (for example, regular filter cleaning or filter changes).
Sydney Showground has a central HVAC system controlling air throughput throughout our primary spaces being The Dome, Halls 2 through to 6 and GIANTS Stadium. Pre COVID our standard practice for these systems was recycling 15% of the air utilised. This is now recycling at less than 1%. We control these percentages via our Building Management System (BMS). We have also increased the frequency of our air filter replacement. These filters possess anti-bacterial properties within the filter media and act as another barrier to COVID-19 transmission (or other air-borne viruses).
Geoff Donaghy, CEO, ICC Sydney
Air quality at ICC Sydney is a topic that we have covered through our continued communication with the Health Department since the COVID-19 Pandemic commenced.
Due to the design of the modern venue, its high ceilings, large spaces and the testing, monitoring, servicing and treatment of our air conditioning plant at ICC Sydney, the Department has not required any changes to our current practices and procedures. To this end, ICC Sydney regularly monitors and checks air filters within the system to ensure air filtration is maintained to the highest standards.
Navarra Venues – Senior Director Managing Partner Giovannino Navarra and Frank Raiti, Chill Refrigeration and Air Conditioning
The ‘new normal’ to optimise air quality since the onset of the Covid 19 pandemic requires lateral thinking, and exciting innovation at NAVARRA venues. NAVARRA have been ahead of the game addressing COVID-19 spread via aerosol transmission. With each venue unique in position and architecture it has meant a mixture of traditional and innovative measures to combat aerosol transmission of Covid 19.
MONTAGE (Le Montage) is snuggled into the waterside of Iron Cove Harbour inviting an unobstructed coastal cross breeze. Coca D’oro is located in the suburbs near St George’s river so is caressed by a gentle river breeze.
Curzon Hall is located in Top Ryde with open air flow curling through the sandstone castle and along the decadent verandas. Oatlands House is nestled into the Hills District with a sea elevation of (406m), higher than Centrepoint Tower (309m) so we get a gentle breeze across the greenspace acreage.
“All of our prestige venues have been fitted with mechanical ventilated air systems, disposable air conditioning filters, increased, regular service checks, large foyers with airlocks, spacious verandas, indoor / outdoor spaces and opening up rooms for cross ventilation between functions” said Senior Director Managing Partner Giovannino Navarra.
“We are in the process of exploring new innovations to kill airborne microbes by looking at disinfecting indoor air to the equivalency of outdoor air quality so we engaged Frank Raiti from Chill Refrigeration and Air Conditioning to work with us.”
“NAVARRA engaged early with sanitary duct work and filtration at regular intervals at the beginning of the pandemic in 2020. As industry leaders they are lifting the bar higher as we are collaborating on the viability of sterilisation by UV light to further complement existing practices”. said Frank Raiti from Chill Refrigeration and Air Conditioning.
“UV light is cutting edge technology which can kill indoor airborne microbes carried by aerosol transmission by more than 98% in approximately five minutes. We want our guests to have a 6 Star experience at our venues which includes attention to air quality so we view the challenge as an opportunity to develop and continue to set the standard in hospitality service”
Sarah Burt, MCEC Corporate Communications provided the most comprehensive response
Heating, ventilation, and air-conditioning (HVAC) at MCEC
At MCEC our HVAC units are automatic, and they are programmed to maintain a constant quantity of outside air under all load conditions. We are required by the Victorian Government to meet minimum for our staff at our venue and the public who attend all our events. Our COVIDSafe plan has been thoroughly reviewed VicGov and we have aligned with and exceeded requirements.
This is outlined in our MCEC VenueSafe Plan.
To maximise air quality at MCEC all of our HVAC essential safety systems are maintained in accordance with regulations, ensuring ongoing compliance across all our buildings. To increase fresh airflow, the following measures are in place: ∙
Building code minimum outdoor air rates maintained during unoccupied periods to ensure there are no periods of stagnation.
Increased ventilation rates as high as 100 per cent outside air during occupied periods through the Building Automated System.
What are the minimum building code outdoor air rates?
Our HVAC arrangements meet the standards outlined by the Victorian Government for COVIDSafe events.
What does it mean: “Increased ventilation rates as high as 100 per cent outside air”? Is there a per hour figure or something? How often is the outside air pushed in or cycled out?
The HVAC system at MCEC is automatic and changes based on how the space is used. The system never drops below 60% of outside air and increases to up 100% outside air depending on requirements and the use the space. As the units are automatic, they are programmed to maintain a constant quantity of outside air under all load conditions.
What is the set point value for the carbon dioxide sensors being set to at MCEC?
MCEC can confirm that our venue is above the standard requirements outlined by the Victorian Government for COVIDSafe events.
And probably the most layman of all questions: are the ventilation measures in place at MCEC set to deliver a higher standard of air quality than an office? I understand that American standards of air quality in an office space are around 800 parts per million of carbon dioxide. What number is MCEC aiming for?
At MCEC our HVAC units are automatic, and they are programmed to maintain a constant quantity of outside air under all load conditions. We are required by the Victorian Government to meet minimum for our staff and the public who attend all our events. Our COVIDSafe plan has been thoroughly reviewed VicGov and we have aligned with and exceeded requirements.