From Best Practice to Policy

Developing a COVID-19 Prevention Program

Written by Mark Drozdov | April 12, 2021

For over a year, the COVID-19 pandemic has destabilized life around the world, particularly in the built environment. According to a paper posted in April 2020 to the preprint website medRxiv, COVID-19 infection is 18 times more likely indoors than outdoors. The virus presents a lethal, unpredictable health and safety risk due to its high degree of infectiousness, its multiple modes of transmission, and its high incidence of asymptomatic infections (approximately 40–45 percent) that make contact tracing and other response strategies more challenging to conduct. While vaccines provide cause for optimism, their less than 100 percent efficacy, the mistakes in mass vaccination efforts, and rapid mutations of the SARS-CoV-2 virus will necessitate a comprehensive approach to infection control that does not exclusively rely on vaccination for the foreseeable future.

This article highlights the evolution of scientific knowledge regarding COVID-19 from initial outbreak to policymaking and identifies the best industrial hygiene practices that IHs in the field should follow regarding COVID-19 risk mitigation.

Developing and implementing a strong infection control plan has never been more urgent, not just as a matter of best practice but increasingly as a matter of regulatory compliance. In 2020, OSHA provided recommended guidance, allowing states and counties to establish their own requirements. The ensuing response was uneven, with some states like California, Oregon, Michigan, and Virginia promulgating emergency temporary standards on COVID-19 in workplaces while others relied on guidelines and recommendations. Critics charged that the overall OSHA response was fragmented, confusing, and ineffective, triggering worker complaints, mass outbreaks, and calls for reform.

As of early 2021, the Biden administration has signaled a much more active approach toward OSHA regulation, enforcement, and funding. On Jan. 21, President Biden issued an “Executive Order on Protecting Worker Health and Safety” stating that the administration would:

  • provide revised guidance to employers on workplace safety during the COVID-19 pandemic
  • implement emergency temporary standards on COVID-19 deemed necessary by March 15
  • review OSHA enforcement efforts including short-, medium-, and long-term changes to better protect workers and ensure equity in enforcement
  • launch a national program to focus on OSHA enforcement efforts related to COVID-19 on violations that put the largest numbers of workers at serious risk or are contrary to anti-retaliation principles
  • coordinate with the Department of Labor’s Office of Public Affairs and Office of Public Engagement and all regional OSHA offices to conduct a multilingual outreach effort to workers

Concurrently, several states and counties have signaled a more aggressive approach to protecting worker health and safety. In late January 2021, Virginia became the first state to enact a permanent standard on COVID-19 in workplaces. Among other provisions, Virginia requires employers to comprehensively evaluate the hazards of all job tasks, create infectious disease preparedness and response plans, and maintain air handling systems in accordance with manufacturers’ instructions and American National Standards Institute (ANSI) and ASHRAE standards. Experts believe that Virginia could be a model for a forthcoming wave of federal and state-level OSHA permanent standards, complemented by heightened enforcement.

COVID-19 Prevention Program Development

In recently published guidance, OSHA noted that the most effective COVID-19 prevention programs involve conducting a hazard assessment; identifying measures that limit the spread of COVID-19; adopting measures to ensure that workers who are infected or potentially infected are separated and sent home; and protecting workers who raise concerns about COVID-19 from retaliation.

For purposes of this discussion, I will focus on the first two aspects of COVID-19 prevention programs: hazard assessment and mitigation measures.

Hazard Assessment
According to OSHA, a hazard assessment, also referred to as a job hazard analysis or JHA, consists of the following process:

  1. collect existing information about workplace hazards
  2. inspect the workplace for safety hazards
  3. identify health hazards
  4. conduct incident investigations
  5. identify hazards associated with emergency and nonroutine situations
  6. characterize the nature of identified hazards, identify interim control measures, and prioritize the hazards for control

OSHA has divided job tasks into four potential risk exposure levels:

  • Lower risk: Jobs that do not require close contact (within 6 feet for a total of 15 minutes or more over a 24-hour period) with other people. Workers in this category have minimal occupational contact with the public and other coworkers.
  • Medium risk: Jobs that require either frequent close contact (within 6 feet for a total of 15 minutes or more over a 24-hour period) or sustained close contact with other people in areas with community transmission.
  • High risk: Jobs with a high potential for exposure to known or suspected sources of SARS-CoV-2.
  • Very high risk: Jobs with a very high potential for exposure to known or suspected sources of SARS-CoV-2 during specific medical, postmortem, or laboratory procedures.

Mitigation Measures: Limiting Spread of COVID-19
Subsequently, an employer must implement a hazard prevention and control process consisting of the following steps:

  1. identify control options
  2. select control options
  3. develop and update a hazard control plan
  4. select controls to protect workers during nonroutine operations and emergencies
  5. implement selected controls in the workplace
  6. follow up to confirm that controls are effective

Applying the hierarchy of controls for COVID-19 is fundamental to hazard prevention and control. Case reports and epidemiological studies have indicated that the primary means of SARS-CoV-2 disease transmission is the indoor spread of exhaled droplet aerosols. Consequently, the AIHA guidance document “Reducing the Risk of COVID-19 Using Engineering Controls” states, “Engineering controls that can keep infectious aerosols at very low levels indoors offer the greatest promise to protect non-healthcare workers and other vulnerable populations as we reopen our businesses and workplaces.”

Figure 1. Relative risk reduction of engineering controls and PPE. Source: AIHA, “Reducing the Risk of COVID-19 Using Engineering Controls”.

AIHA emphasizes the advantage of engineering controls relative to administrative controls and PPE on the grounds of efficacy and cost. An analysis in AIHA’s guidance document demonstrates that engineering controls can achieve a greater reduction in transmission risk than N95 respirators. Ventilation that provides 4.5 air changes per hour, a rate achievable in many buildings, reduces COVID-19 transmission to the same extent as N95 respirators. The reality is that engineering controls are less prone to human error than administrative controls and PPE. AIHA also highlights the high cost of PPE, which, in addition to PPE shortages and supply interruptions, makes off-the-shelf, reliable, and effective engineering controls better long-term solutions for preventing disease transmission. And as I stated in my article “Managing Indoor Air Quality Amid COVID-19,” which was published in the October 2020 issue of Restoration and Remediation magazine, “It is critical to remember that each indoor environment is unique; conditions within each indoor environment are dynamic, and there is not a one-size-fits-all strategy for infection control.”

Mitigation Measures: Dilution Ventilation and Filtration
ASHRAE’s April 2020 position document on infectious aerosols (PDF) states that based on risk assessments, the use of specific HVAC strategies supported by the evidence-based literature should be considered, including the following:

  • Enhanced filtration (higher minimum efficiency reporting value [MERV] filters over code minimums in occupant-dense and/or higher-risk spaces)
  • Upper-room UVGI (with possible in-room fans) as a supplement to supply airflow
  • Local exhaust ventilation for source control
  • Personalized ventilation systems for certain high-risk tasks
  • Portable, free-standing high-efficiency particulate air (HEPA) filters
  • Temperature and humidity control

ASHRAE, AIHA, and other leading authorities emphasize that selecting, installing, and evaluating specific engineering controls should be based on a site-specific risk assessment in consultation with “a knowledgeable mechanical engineer and industrial hygienist familiar with ventilation controls and infection control,” as explained in the AIHA guidance document. Every building is unique, conditions and risk are dynamic, and there are no one-size-fits-all solutions.

Nevertheless, research published in the American Journal of Infection Control indicates that dilution ventilation and filtration emerge in peer-reviewed scientific literature and public health guidance as the most consistently recommended engineering controls, not only for SARS-CoV-2 but also for other respiratory viruses like influenza, tuberculosis, and rhinovirus. The logic is clear and compelling: increasing outdoor air intakes, air exchange rates, and filtration levels to the highest level an HVAC system can sustainably handle reduces the time and space for airborne pathogens like SARS-CoV-2 to linger, spread, and infect others, similar to the “infinite dilution” benefits of outdoor environments.

For generations, healthcare facilities have embedded dilution ventilation and filtration in their infection control systems and controls. Now, the pandemic is forcing non-healthcare facilities to operate based on the same core principles, representing a significant departure from traditional building operations optimized for cost, efficiency, and occupant comfort. Meanwhile, federal and state OSHA authorities have thrust ventilation and filtration controls front and center in their updated guidelines, recommendations, and standards given scientific consensus on the importance of airborne transmission of SARS-CoV-2.

Verification of Engineering Controls
Even within the scope of dilution ventilation and filtration-focused controls, the hazard prevention and control process is not straightforward due to often-competing health and safety, engineering, and financial considerations. For example, what is the relative risk reduction of increasing the volume of outside air, installing enhanced filtration in central HVAC systems, and using standalone HEPA-filtered air cleaners? Which of these controls are possible within the mechanical system’s design and operational capabilities? Will increased outside air introduce high levels of humidity, thereby causing other health and safety risks like mold and bacterial growth in the HVAC system, ducts, and occupied areas of the building? What is the capability of fans in the HVAC system to handle increased pressure load from increased filtration, and what will be the implications for maintenance, filter changes, and air leakage around the enhanced filtration? And are the benefits of these controls worth the costs associated with implementing them?

Moreover, the lack of a widely accepted quantitative standard for ventilation endorsed by OSHA, ASHRAE, and other leading authorities creates further ambiguity for developing, implementing, evaluating, and enforcing critical engineering controls.

Ideally, robust analytical tools and diagnostic solutions should guide the hazard prevention and control process and help assess costs and benefits. However, the pandemic has exposed a critical gap in the toolbox of industrial hygienists and mechanical engineers. Existing solutions fall into two main categories: quantitatively rigorous theoretical approaches like computational fluid dynamic modeling and Wells-Riley mathematical solutions, and qualitatively rigorous applied approaches heavily reliant on expert feedback. What has been lacking is a quantitatively rigorous applied approach capable of verifying the efficacy of engineering controls in real-world indoor environments.

However, technology-enabled solutions are emerging to fill this gap. One recent example is a diagnostic solution leveraging DNA-tagged tracer particles that safely mimic airborne pathogen mobility and exposure levels. This type of technology-enabled solution has the potential to integrate a layer of science- and data-based verification into the hazard prevention and control process and to round out traditional approaches.

Critical Components

The COVID-19 pandemic represents a once-in-a-century public health risk, which is particularly acute in the built environment. In response, federal and state-level OSHA authorities are advancing increased regulation and enforcement actions to protect workers. Identification, assessment, and prevention of hazards, and the implementation of controls, are critical for developing and implementing infection control plans that are consistent with best practices and compliant with regulations. Given the airborne transmission risk of SARS-CoV-2, dilution ventilation and enhanced filtration should be critical components of a hazard control plan, strengthened by emerging technology that can verify efficacy throughout the decision-making process. IH and OEHS professionals should employ the scientific knowledge gained during this pandemic by utilizing the best industrial hygiene practices and means to verify ventilation and filtration controls as part of COVID-19 prevention plans. We are all under an obligation to apply effective infection control and management tools that demonstrate the effectiveness of the actions taken.

This article originally appeared in the American Industrial Hygiene Association (AIHA) publication, the Synergist. Read it here.

Resources

AIHA: “Joint Consensus Statement on Addressing the Aerosol Transmission of SARS CoV-2 and Recommendations for Preventing Occupational Exposures” (PDF, February 2021).
AIHA: “Reducing the Risk of COVID-19 Using Engineering Controls” (PDF, August 2020).
ASHRAE: “ASHRAE Position Document on Infectious Aerosols” (PDF, April 2020).
OSHA: Recommended Practices for Safety and Health Programs, “Hazard Identification and Assessment.
Restoration & Remediation: “How to Manage Indoor Air Quality Amid COVID-19 (October 2020).
Virginia Safety and Health Codes Board: “Final Permanent Standard for Infectious Disease Prevention of the SARS-CoV-2 Virus That Causes COVID-19” (PDF, January 2021).
The White House: “Executive Order on Protecting Worker Health and Safety” (January 2021).

Artificial Fog Does Not Appear To Increase Airborne COVID-19 Disease Transmission Risk In Entertainment Productions

New study, sponsored in part by IATSA Local 891, shows that artificial fog may even reduce levels of suspended respiratory aerosols

Date: April 6, 2021

PLEASANTON, Calif., April 6, 2021 /PRNewswire/ — A new study released by Aura Health and Safety, The Phylmar Group, and SafeTraces, Inc, a market leader in DNA-based technology solutions, suggests that artificial fog has no negative impact on suspension of aerosols in entertainment venues and productions. This is great news for the film, television and live entertainment industries, with a US market size in excess of $700 billion.

The COVID-19 pandemic represents a once-in-a-century crisis that has led to unprecedented health and safety challenges in the built environment, including the entertainment industries. Scientific, medical, and public health experts, including the Center for Disease Control (CDC), have stated that SARS-CoV-2 is a highly infectious virus that is primarily transmitted via respiratory droplets and aerosols. Indoor environments face significant airborne exposure risk, with enclosed areas, prolonged exposure, and poor ventilation high risk factors common in many entertainment venues.

As the entertainment industry, trade associations, and labor unions prepare to reopen venues and stage new productions, there has been significant concern whether artificial fog increases the airborne transmission risk of diseases such as COVID-19. Artificial fog is widely used in the entertainment industries to enhance lighting, as a visual effect, and to create a specific sense of mood or atmosphere as it disperses across densely occupied venues such as concert halls and theaters, rendering it a suspected risk factor for airborne disease transmission.

For the joint study “COVID-19 Implications of the Physical Interaction of Artificial Fog on Respiratory Aerosols“, Aura Health and Safety occupational and public health scientists used the aerosol-based veriDART™ solution by SafeTraces, the most powerful risk assessment tool for airborne pathogens like SARS-CoV-2. It leverages DNA-tagged tracer particles that safely mimic aerosol mobility and exposure in order to identify high-risk infection hotspots and transmission routes, assess ventilation and filtration efficacy, and inform remediations with a rigorous science-based, data-driven methodology.

The scientists released unique DNA-tagged tracer particles with and without glycerin- or glycol-containing artificial fog into a closed environment. They took air samples at regular intervals to determine DNA tracer degradation over time. The study found that none of the artificial fog applications increased the time that respiratory aerosols remained suspended in the air. In fact, artificial fog containing glycol actually decreased suspension time, indicating that this fog application reduces the time respiratory aerosols remain suspended in the air to impact disease transmission.

The highly significant finding that artificial fog does not increase, and may even reduce, the risk of airborne transmission of diseases from respiratory aerosols has important implications, as it directly affects the entertainment industries’ readiness to re-open and their ability to generate revenue and create jobs.

“Over the past several years the use of atmospheric smoke and fog has been on the rise with many in our membership expressing concern over health concerns around the products used, and any lasting effects of its use. When the COVID-19 pandemic shut down the industry in March of 2020 one of the many concerns brought forward to Local 891 – concerns heard throughout the industry North America wide – was, what happens when someone who may have the disease releases aerosols into the fog on a set?” asked Keith Woods, President of the International Alliance of Theatrical Stage Employees, Moving Picture Technicians, Artists and Allied Crafts (IATSA) Local 891 labor union.”Given this, it seemed natural to support a study of this sort to help get some answers to this most pressing of concerns. It gives us some relief to know that artificial fog does not appear to allow the released aerosols to suspend more than normal,” stated Woods.

About SafeTraces:
SafeTraces is committed to ensuring the highest safety standards for the air we breathe, the food we eat, and the medication we take by harnessing the power of DNA. We provide market leading, DNA-enabled diagnostic solutions for indoor air quality, food and pharmaceutical traceability, and sanitation verification. Information is available at www.safetraces.com.

About Aura Health and Safety:
Aura Health and Safety provides specialized industrial hygiene and environmental public health consulting to a range of industries. Aura has been working with the film and television industry for several years, conducting artificial fog research, indoor air quality investigations, and most recently COVID-19 plans. Information is available at www.aurahealthsafety.com.

About the Phylmar Group:
The Phylmar Group facilitates environmental health and safety/sustainability forums in the areas of biopharmaceuticals, apparel/ footwear and occupational health and safety. Phylmar monitors, analyzes and advocates during rule making regarding federal and state regulations, and members have a private channel for information exchange and networking along with opportunities for continuing professional education and mentoring. Information is available at www.phylmar.com.

This post originally appeared on PR Newswire. Read it here.

Workplace Safety: Best Practice, Compliance, and Trust in the New Normal

How can employers reopen safely amidst increasing OSHA regulation and employee mistrust in workplace safety? Emerging technology can help.

Written by Erik Malmstrom | April 01, 2021

Amidst renewed urgency for reopening, employers confront two major issues – the proverbial regulatory hammer dropping and an alarming crisis of confidence in workplace safety. Emerging safety technologies can provide a major boost on both fronts.

First, President Biden has signaled a more robust approach to OSHA regulation and enforcement than his predecessor. Forthcoming Emergency Temporary Standards (ETS) regulations for employers, directed by an executive order issued on the first day of the Biden presidency, will be accompanied by a recently announced National Emphasis Program (NEP) for COVID-19 enforcement actions in higher hazard industries and an updated Enforcement Response Plan (ERP) to “prioritize COVID-19-related inspections involving deaths or multiple hospitalizations due to occupational exposures.”[1]

Second, a widely cited poll of 3,400 respondents across seven countries conducted by Edelman in late 2020 yielded striking results. Only half of employees believed that office spaces are safe. Employees placed the least amount of confidence in CEOs and senior managers to lead on return to work (14%). Most respondents received the majority of their virus-related information from mainstream and social media, but questioned its fundamental credibility.[2]

As employers prepare for return to work in a pandemic and post-pandemic world, how should they navigate this complex regulatory environment and overcome the trust deficit from employees? At risk of sounding overly simplistic, the answer is clear: they need to create a safe workplace based on best practice and regulation, and they need to communicate to employees with consistent, high quality, and reliable information.

How do we create a safe workplace? For an airborne pathogen like SARS-CoV-2, best practice and regulation have increasingly emphasized the critical importance of ventilation, filtration, and engineering controls to mitigate airborne exposure risk. The American Industrial Hygiene Association’s (AIHA) states, “Engineering controls that can keep infectious aerosols at very low levels indoors offer the greatest promise to protect non-healthcare workers and other vulnerable populations as we reopen our businesses and workplaces.”[3]

AIHA recommends “effective, simple-to-use, and inexpensive” tools to assess pathogenic exposure risk and verify efficacy of engineering controls in real world environments.[4] However, the reality is that existing tools fail to meet these three criteria, including applied tools like tracer gases, anemometers, and balometers for ventilation and particle challenge methods for filters, as well as theoretical tools like computational fluid dynamic modeling and volumetric airflow calculations.

From an efficacy standpoint, existing tools have two major drawbacks: (1) they are not aerosol-based and therefore are limited in their ability to verify ventilation and filtration efficacy for an aerosol contaminant like SARS-CoV-2; and (2) none provides a combined assessment of ventilation and filtration efficacy in one test, requiring triangulation between multiple methods to verify engineering controls holistically. Beyond efficacy, most existing tools are also overly complicated and costly, ultimately deterring regular effective verification.

As management guru Peter Drucker famously once said, “if you can’t measure it, you can’t improve it.” Fundamentally, toolbox limitations compromise our ability to accurately and regularly measure exposure risk and manage prevention and communication efforts, directly undermining workplace safety, regulatory compliance and employee confidence. Assessments often fail to produce high quality defensible data and thus create liability for employers. Moreover, employers’ limited ability to communicate data clearly, compellingly, and consistently perpetuates employee mistrust in workplace safety.

While the pandemic has exposed critical toolbox limitations, it has also spurred groundbreaking innovations that have pushed us closer to effective, simple to use, and inexpensive solutions that enhance workplace safety, regulatory compliance, and employee trust. As one example, our company SafeTraces has developed the first commercially available aerosol-based diagnostic solution for verifying ventilation and filtration efficacy in real world environments.

Developed with support from the National Institutes of Health and technical experts at leading research universities like Stanford and MIT, the veriDARTTM solution by SafeTraces leverages patented DNA-tagged tracer particles that safely mimic aerosol mobility and exposure in order to identify high-risk infection hotspots and transmission routes, regularly assess HVAC system performance at an affordable price point and ease of use, and inform remediations with a rigorous science-based, data-driven methodology.

SafeTraces has supported a diverse set of corporate, commercial real estate, and government clients, who have integrated veriDART into critical health, safety, and financial decision-making processes and ongoing environmental health and safety programs. Clients use veriDART to address two universal questions: (1) is air and airflow safe? (2) how and where should I target infection control planning and spending to enhance safety?

Practically, veriDART provides a baseline risk assessment for pathogenic exposure in real world spaces with the ability to regularly verify the same locations. It analyzes relative exposure risk reduction provided by increasing ventilation rates, upgrading MERV-level filters, employing standalone HEPA units, running fans, installing physical barriers, etc. Moreover, our data is independent, scientific, empirical, provided in heatmaps and other visual formats valuable for internal decision-making, regulatory compliance, and crisis communication to employees.

In conclusion, the rapidly evolving regulatory environment and pervasive employee trust deficit in workplace safety means that the cost of inaction for employers is high. Emerging OSHA regulation and enforcement compels employers to act immediately in order to become compliant, avoid citations and penalties, and limit legal liability with defensible data. Meanwhile, employers need to be proactive in enhancing workplace safety and communicating their efforts consistently with high quality, reliable data to employees like never before. Emerging technologies like veriDART are powerful solutions to these important ends.  

This article originally appeared on EHS Today. Read it here.

References:

  1. https://www.ehstoday.com/print/content/21159300
  2. https://www.edelman.com/research/workplace-trust-coronavirus
  3. https://aiha-assets.sfo2.digitaloceanspaces.com/AIHA/resources/Guidance-Documents/Reducing-the-Risk-of-COVID-19-using-Engineering-Controls-Guidance-Document.pdf
  4. https://aiha-assets.sfo2.digitaloceanspaces.com/AIHA/resources/Fact-Sheets/Joint-Consensus-Statement-on-Addressing-the-Aerosol-Transmission-of-SARS-CoV-2-Fact-Sheet.pdfhttps://cdn.ymaws.com/www.iicrc.org/resource/resmgr/images/resources/COVID-19_Professional_Cleani.pdf

Emerging Technology for Verifying Engineering Controls

Groundbreaking aerosol-based solutions for verifying ventilation and filtration efficacy have emerged during the COVID-19 pandemic

Written by Erik Malmstrom | March 30, 2021

How do health facilities professionals verify that indoor air and airflow are safe? Facing a once-in-a-century airborne pathogen like SARS-CoV-2, the answer to this fundamental question has never been more important. They sometimes don’t know the answer because they cannot accurately quantify exposure risk and verify engineering controls in real world spaces. However, emerging technology is rapidly addressing this gap.

Three critical facts

Scientific, medical and public health experts have arrived at consensus on three critical facts over the course of the COVID-19 pandemic:

  • Enhanced filtration that includes higher Minimum Efficiency Reporting Value (MERV) filters over code minimums in occupant-dense and/or higher-risk spaces
  • Upper-room UltraViolet Germicidal Irradiation (UVGI), with possible in-room fans, as a supplement to supply airflow
  • Local exhaust ventilation for source control
  • Personalized ventilation systems for certain high-risk tasks
  • Portable, free-standing High-Efficiency Particulate Air (HEPA) filters
  • Temperature and humidity control

Health care facility design prioritizes infection control and prevention via enhanced ventilation capabilities, HEPA filtration and negative pressure control. Nevertheless, the pandemic has placed unprecedented stress on these systems due to the high transmissibility of the virus and surges in infections overwhelming designated infection control areas and forcing non-designated areas to handle overflow.

Consequently, mechanical engineers face a complex challenge in verifying the efficacy of engineering controls in designated infection control areas, and responding to the need for rapid repurposing and/or retro-commissioning of areas not originally designed for infection control.

Traditionally, mechanical engineers employ a variety of applied and theoretical methods for verifying efficacy of engineering controls. For verifying ventilation efficacy, tracer-gas based methods using sulfur hexafluoride or carbon dioxide monitors, and direct measurement approaches using instruments, like thermal anemometers and balometers, are common practice.

For verifying filtration efficacy, particle-based methods like dispersed oil particulate for testing HEPA filter integrity and other mostly solid-matter challenge agents for sub-HEPA level filters are common practice. Frequently, non-applied methods augment applied methods like computational fluid dynamic modeling, volumetric airflow calculations and verification of product specifications for HVAC equipment.

In February 2021, the American Industrial Hygiene Association released the “Joint Consensus Statement on Addressing the Aerosol Transmission of SARS-CoV-2 and Recommendations for Preventing Occupational Exposures,” emphasizing the need for “(1) effective, (2) simple-to-use and (3) inexpensive ventilation assessment tools.” Implicit in this recommendation is that existing assessment tools fail to satisfy these three criteria.

From an efficacy standpoint, existing assessment tools have two major drawbacks: (1) They are not liquid aerosol-based and therefore not optimal for verifying ventilation and filtration efficacy for infectious aerosols like SARS-CoV-2, influenza and tuberculosis; and (2) none provide a combined assessment of ventilation and filtration efficacy within one test, requiring triangulation between multiple methods to verify engineering controls holistically.

Beyond efficacy, many practitioners do not consider existing solutions simple-to-use and/or inexpensive, resulting infrequent verification. Consequently, the baseline understanding of airflow, and ventilation and filtration efficacy in real world health care facilities is less robust than one would like. Moreover, the uniqueness of each facility, dynamic nature of airflow and infection risk within facilities, and natural wear and tear of mechanical and HVAC systems, underscores the importance of regular, ongoing verification that exceeds the capabilities of existing assessment tools.

Technical advances

However, the pandemic has spurred groundbreaking technological advances that have pushed us closer to effective, simple to use and inexpensive solutions that can be used routinely in real world spaces.

As one example, SafeTraces Inc., Pleasanton, Calif., has developed the first commercially available aerosol-based diagnostic solution for verifying ventilation and filtration efficacy for airborne pathogens. Developed with support from the National Institutes of Health and technical experts at leading research universities like Stanford and MIT, the veriDARTTM solution by SafeTraces leverages patented DNA-tagged tracer particles that safely mimic aerosol mobility and exposure to identify high-risk infection hotspots and transmission routes, regularly assesses HVAC system performance at an affordable price point and ease of use, and informs remediations with a rigorous science-based, data-driven methodology.

The veriDART™ by SafeTraces was used to iteratively verify negative pressure controls and airflow isolation between hot zone and safe area at a major superspreader site.

SafeTraces’ technology consists of two main components.

First, the particle technology enables the SafeTraces team to safely simulate the chemical composition, particle size distribution and detection method of virus-laden respiratory droplets and aerosols to verify ventilation and filtration efficacy in one test. DNA provides three significant advantages relative to existing methodologies: (1) DNA is highly sensitive to detection, meaning relatively small amounts of DNA can be used to test large areas at very precise levels; (2) unique DNA identifiers can be tagged to different tracer solutions, meaning multiple tracers can be released simultaneously simulating viral emissions at different points in a facility and each sample point can be tested against each unique tracer to develop a sophisticated assessment of aerosol mobility and exposure patterns; and (3) the DNA-tagged tracer solutions are completely safe, using food-grade, water-soluble materials that are FDA-Generally Recognized as Safe (FDA-GRAS), that are OSHA- and NIOSH-compliant, and that allow for occupants to be in the facility during testing.

Second, the data technology enables the SafeTraces team to precisely measure DNA signal strength, correlate test results to a relative exposure risk scale informed by infectious disease science and generate heatmaps and other visualizations to clearly communicate key findings and implications.

In recent months, SafeTraces has supported a diverse set of corporate, commercial real estate and government clients, that have integrated the veriDART solution into critical health, safety and financial decision-making processes and ongoing environmental health and safety programs.

Notably, SafeTraces has supported health care facilities in three main areas: (1) It verified the efficacy of engineering controls in designated infection control areas, verifying ventilation, filtration and negative pressure control performance against reference standards like American National Standards Institute/ASHRAE/American Society for Health Care Engineering’s Standard 170, Ventilation of Health Care Facilities; (2) it verified the efficacy of engineering controls in repurposed and/or retro-commissioned areas to improve building operation and maintenance procedures, often iteratively testing ventilation, filtration and negative pressure controls until a level of performance was achieved to ensure adequate infection control; and (3) it verified the efficacy of engineering controls in non-infection control areas, including high-risk areas like lobbies, waiting rooms and breakrooms.

Real-world examples illustrate the practical value of SafeTraces’ verification solution for infection control.

In late 2020, veriDART supported the retrofit of an existing long-term care facility resident wing into a temporary isolation unit, with modifications including increased ventilation rates, negative pressure controls, HEPA filtration and physical airflow barriers. The test results quantified the relative impact of varying ventilation rates, negative versus neutral airflow modes and other critical priorities, such as the “blast radius” of particle dispersion and particle detection levels in the HVAC system and filters to inform critical design decision-making.

In a separate engagement, SafeTraces supported a large prison during a major coronavirus outbreak that infected hundreds of inmates and staff. The crisis forced the prison’s leadership to evacuate the main prison complex and establish a large makeshift infection ward in a vacant warehouse on its premises. Prior to populating the ward, the prison’s leadership sought to verify airflow isolation and efficacy of negative pressure controls between the “hot zone” designated to house hundreds of infected inmates and the “safe area” designated for medical and administrative staff. The SafeTraces team worked with the prison’s facilities team to iteratively assess performance of negative pressure controls, with dramatic improvement between initial and final results and ultimately mitigating further viral spread (see graphic).

Quantifying risk

Emerging technologies are transforming the ability of health care facilities to quantify exposure risk and verify engineering controls for airborne pathogens with far-reaching consequences beyond the current pandemic. The benefits of these technologies-enabled solutions are enormous: enhancing patient and provider safety; regularly auditing HVAC system performance in ways never before possible; targeting remediation spending to its highest value opportunities; supporting compliance for rapidly evolving regulation; and eventually factoring into liability insurance and other mechanisms for evaluating and underwriting risk. It will be important for facilities engineers to be adaptive and consider how and where emerging technologies can best be integrated into their respective facilities for improved infection control and safety.

This article originally appeared on ASHE’s Health Facilities Management Magazine Online. Read it here.

UL and SafeTraces Launch Program To Help K-12 Schools Reopen Safely

Indoor air quality, ventilation and filtration verification and infection control program helps enhance student, teacher and staff safety.

Date: March 26, 2021

NORTHBROOK, Ill.March 26, 2021 /PRNewswire/ — UL, the global safety science leader, and SafeTraces, a market leader in DNA-based technology solutions, today launched a comprehensive program for indoor air quality, ventilation and filtration verification and infection control for K-12 schools. The collaboration combines UL’s indoor environmental quality verification services expertise with SafeTraces’ veriDART™ solution, the first aerosol-based diagnostic solution for verifying ventilation and filtration efficacy for infection control.

According to the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), SARS-CoV-2 is a highly infectious virus that is primarily transmitted via respiratory droplets and aerosols. UL and SafeTraces are combining forces to address this transmission risk with a program specifically to assess and mitigate health and safety risk in K-12 schools.

Utilizing UL’s Healthy Buildings services, enabling building owners and operators to assess indoor environmental quality, with the SafeTraces veriDART™ solution, a risk assessment tool for airborne pathogens, including coronaviruses, the program provides insight to help K-12 schools reopen safely.  SafeTraces veriDART™ leverages patented DNA-tagged tracer particles that safely mimic aerosol mobility and exposure in order to identify high-risk infection hotspots and transmission routes, assess ventilation and filtration efficacy, and inform remediations with a rigorous science-based, data-driven methodology.

The SafeTraces program consists of a comprehensive building data review, HVAC system inspection, air quality testing, ventilation assessment, exhaust system verification and SafeTraces veriDART™ infection risk assessment. Schools will receive a final report that consolidates results, analysis, conclusions and recommendations with the opportunity for recurring UL Verification and ongoing support.

“The pandemic has introduced a heightened interest in health and wellness among educators. Ensuring that school buildings support student and staff health now tops the priority list for school systems across the U.S.,” said Sean McCrady, director in UL’s Assets and Sustainability, Real Estate and Properties division. “Reducing disease transmission risk is especially important in our schools and places of learning where good ventilation and indoor air quality are imperative.  UL’s collaboration with SafeTraces helps schools address this head on to aid them in creating a safe and healthy learning environment,” McCrady said.

“How do we verify that air and airflow are safe? In the face of a highly transmissible and potentially lethal airborne pathogen like SARS-CoV-2, this fundamental question has never been more important and the stakes have never been higher for our students, teachers, staff, and communities,” said SafeTraces CEO Erik Malmstrom. “Unequivocally, SafeTraces and UL’s program establishes a benchmark for K-12 school safety verification. We’re thrilled to collaborate with a market leader like UL to support such an important mission.”

For more information on the program and to sign up visit: https://www.safetraces.com/school-ventilation-and-filtration/

This post originally appeared on PR Newswire. Read it here.

COVID-19 Implications of the Physical Interaction of Artificial Fog on Respiratory Aerosols

Written by Matthew Loss, Mark Katchen, Ilan Arvelo, Phil Arnold, Mona Shum

This content originally appeared on medRxiv.org.  Access it here.

veriDART™ by SafeTraces named in Verdantix 10 Exciting Indoor Air Quality Technologies To Watch in 2021

Written by SafeTraces | March 2021

SafeTraces  is proud to announce that our veriDART™ solution has been recognized as one of 10 exciting indoor air quality technologies to watch in 2021 by Verdantix, an independent market research leader.

According to Verdantix: “This report identifies 10 of the most innovative hardware and software technologies aimed at improving IAQ and HVAC operation. Corporate executives in facilities, EHS, human resources (HR) and real estate roles should use this report to understand the cutting-edge innovation occurring in the IAQ market and how these solutions can add value to their buildings.”

Verdantix highlights that:

“SafeTraces offers one-off and repeat validation services that provide insight into many of the operational functionalities of HVAC systems, such as filter performance, airflow patterns and fresh air ventilation rates.”

“Facilities managers with older HVAC systems and buildings should consider this solution to gauge viral transmission risk within their buildings and to identify methods to mitigate this risk.”

 

Verdantix subscribers can access the full report here.

 

SafeTraces is committed to ensuring the highest safety standards for the air we breathe, the food we eat, and the medication we take. If you have any questions about how  veriDART verifies real world HVAC system performance to mitigate exposure risk for airborne pathogens or are interested in purchasing the solution, reach out to us today.

Validation of the saniTracers® Sanitation Verification Method from Stainless Steel Environmental Surfaces

Written by Quin Chou, Nicole Herbold, and Lucia Cerrillo

This content originally appeared in the Journal of AOAC International.  Access it here.

Synthetic DNA Barcodes on Fruits and Vegetables Could Open the Door to Food and Agricultural Transparency

Featured in the Genetic Literacy Project

Written by Richard Owen | January 21, 2021

Few technologies can transform the relationship between growers and consumers like the promise of transparency. And with Covid, many of us demand even greater assurance that our food supply chain is as safe as possible. How are growers, distributors, processors, and grocery stores implementing transparency at each point in the supply chain?

I have been working in the agriculture industry for a long time. Over 30 years to be exact. But it wasn’t until I entered the highly-perishable fresh produce sector a decade ago that I gathered a true appreciation for how complicated – and how powerful – a transparent supply chain can be.

For many deep-rooted and emotional reasons, consumers have a close relationship with their fresh produce, scanning the produce aisle high and low for just the right piece of fruit to take home. And if at a farmer’s market, they’ll often quiz the farmer on how the product was grown, what crop protection products were used, and when was it picked. Arguably, the consumer’s relationship with fruits and vegetables is the most complicated one in the supermarket.

Those are the old days. Or at least that is the past, and singular, view of how consumers connect with the most perishable of products in their shopping cart.

The promise of technology and its impact on transparency will forever change the produce aisle, just like moving from 3G to 5G technology.

 

Different Views on Produce

When I speak to consumers about transparency, they reflect with varied responses. Some will say they want to get to know the specific grower that produced the beans or apples. What type of land was the crop raised on? What chemicals were sprayed, if any? What similar products can I purchase from that particular farmer?

When I speak with growers, transparency means building deeper loyalty with retailers and the consumers they serve (with hopes the loyalty is returned). But equally important, it’s a way to keep track of the product in case of food safety inquiries and also ensuring the quality of food arriving at its final destination — a nudge for growers to improve transparency.

A Push for Transparency: Savings & Security

Like with most technologies, there must be a benefit for increased transparency to become more ubiquitous. The most tangible benefit is financial, of course. That could come in the form of cost savings by eliminating a portion of the supply chain, or through increased margin at the checkout stand demanded by a premium label.

At the same time, it could also be an opportunity to protect market share. We’ve all seen the many recalls for romaine lettuce. We’re told of a few brands and bar codes to be aware of, but how do they know? The ability to trace-back a product to a particular warehouse or field is very important for a retailer and the consumer.

In the case of a food safety incident, quick trace-back can mean the difference between a small recall involving one or two growers, or a larger investigation that involves tens of millions of dollars of impacted product. And, if consumers fall ill from the incident, a bruised reputation for the retailer or brand, regardless of the outcome.

 

A Tool for Telling a Story

According to a 2020 study by the Food Marketing Institute (FMI) and Label Insight, shoppers have higher expectations for transparency when shopping online compared to in-store. Think back to the early days of COVID-19. According to FMI, online grocery purchases soared to 27% of all grocery spending for the March/April period of this year, compared to 14% in February.

This increase in online sales will undoubtedly drive consumers’ interest in a more transparent system. Why? In the store, you can look and feel the product you are about to purchase. Online, you need something more to tell the complete story of a product – how it was grown, when it was picked, size, and other quality attributes. That’s where transparency fills the gaps.

When you go to a grocery store, what do you want to know about your fruits and veggies? Why would you pick a particular brand of berries over another? Or what is it that you like about a particular store’s produce section? We often look for certain benefits when we purchase a product. It starts with the basics of getting a good product at a fair price. But beyond that, transparency helps the consumer make a purchase.

According to IRI Research, “consumers are more concerned than ever about where their food comes from. They are not only making their concerns widely known on social media; they are editing their shopping lists based on those concerns”. Not a surprise to see that the food transparency trend is growing, especially in the younger generations.

 

A Demand From Millennials

The effect of transparency on purchase decisions is even starker among the Millennial generation. According to a Snacking Trends Report, this demographic is increasingly making purchasing decisions based on “the tenets of self, society, and planet”, which feeds into sustainability.

Millennials have a real connection to the betterment of the planet, and brands need to be careful not to miss this. They must embrace the new level of transparency that Millennials have elevated. Just “talking the talk” will no longer cut it.

Farmers Demanding Price Visibility & Insights

Farmer acceptance of transparency technology is growing for multiple reasons. In the case of fresh produce, transparency allows the grower to look for efficiencies in the supply chain. Not only with their operation, but in the part of the chain above and below them.

Through an open purchasing platform, a grower may learn what the distributor pays the manufacturer for inputs, which puts them in a better negotiating position with the distributor, or even directly with the manufacturer.

Going the other direction in the supply chain, a grower may be able to directly access consumer insights on their products and brand. In the past, that information may have been maintained by retailers or distributors that, in turn, passed it along to the grower. The net result of this shift is quicker and better-informed decisions about what to grow.

And more importantly, they can look for particular attributes to provide the highest return from the marketplace. Similar to the consumer, it often comes down to economics: can I increase my revenue or lower my costs through the use of new technology that pulls up the shades somewhere else in the supply chain?

 

Promising Technologies in the Works

New technology has a way of telling the story of ‘what’s possible’. Here are two promising examples:

Founded in 2013, a Californian company called SafeTraces developed DNA “barcodes” that can be added to fruits and vegetables via a liquid spray or wax. What’s so special about that? The company takes a small piece of synthetic DNA from organisms not typically found in the produce section – like seaweed – which they mix with trace amounts of sugar and create a sprayable solution. According to the company, the spray is odorless, tasteless, and poses no food safety risk.

If a problem with the product arises, the DNA on the surface can be swabbed and identified within minutes. Placing the DNA barcode directly on fresh produce significantly reduces the potential for traceback information to be lost. Produce boxes, which traditionally carry the tracking information, are discarded long before anyone catches on to a problem.

In a different twist on innovative traceability technology, software company HarvestMark partnered with iFood Decision Sciences to create a solution that allows consumers to not only view each step along the supply chain, but to provide feedback and reward those brands they feel are doing the best job of transparency.

The product information is collected and shared with the consumer on an item-level basis. The consumer has instant feedback linked to the product’s age, origin, and location. This allows the grower to see how a specific product performs on the grocery store shelf and then make short and long-term production decisions.

In addition to the quality and analytical measurements provided to the grower, like temperature control, inventory monitoring, and supplier notifications, this traceability system also provides a mechanism for product recall in case there is a food safety incident.

The real power of the HarvestMark technology comes through the integration of both the consumer and analytical supply-chain feedback. A highly perishable raspberry variety, for example, might have great flavor and visual appeal according to consumer feedback. Through the analytics of the traceability software across the supply chain, the grower can maximize the shelf-life of the raspberries and reduce perishability at the store level. The result is increased income for both the grower and the retailer…and a happy customer who returns for repeat business.

The promise of this technology will be optimized even further using blockchain applications, which enables the industry to share data up and down the supply chain while maintaining the integrity of the data at each source.

 

The Bottom Line

A demand for transparency stems from both the consumer and the farmer in the hopes of ensuring affordability, safety, and sustainability. Implementing these advances will radically change supply chains in the years ahead. And although consumers may only notice slight differences in the produce section, we’ll reap its benefits by paying less for safer food that’s less likely to end up in the garbage.

Richard Owen has been a part of the Produce Marketing Association since 2009, when he joined as Director of Global Business Development and has served as Vice President of Global Membership and Engagement for the past three years. Find Richard on Twitter @richardo_pma

This content originally appeared on Dirt To Dinner and was also adapted for the Genetic Literacy Project.

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