As we plan to repopulate the campus, it is important to address the effectiveness of the ventilation systems that support our buildings and steps taken to enhance air quality.  The following is a list of frequently asked questions and facts to keep you informed. Additionally, with 85% to90% of the people on campus vaccinated, this alone significantly reduces the amount of potential virus particles in any building. (Updated 5/5/21)

What role does HVAC play in the transmission of COVID-19?

The primary means of COVID-19 transmission is through face to face contact within 6’ for more than 15 minutes. Small respiratory particles suspended in the air are removed by the ventilation system, while larger respiratory particle drop to solid surfaces. To date there have been no documented cases of this virus traveling through the HVAC system to infect a person in a different room and very low risk of surface transmission.  

We have adjusted ventilation systems to optimize fresh air and exhaust to further dilute the smaller particles for reduced risk of transmission. Experts across all industries recommend vaccination and the wearing of face coverings to be the most effective mitigation strategies for reducing the spread of COVID-19.

Can ventilation eliminate the transmission of COVID-19?

All industry leaders have agreed that ventilation alone will not eliminate the transmission of COVID-19. Ventilation should be viewed as an additional layer to the multiple layers of campus mitigation strategies listed below. 

  • vaccination requirement
  • face coverings
  • cleaning protocols
  • unvaccinated individuals are recommended for surveillance testing
  • daily symptom checking - if symptoms are present, stay home and contact your healthcare provider
Is my building ventilated well enough?

Most of the academic and administrative buildings have HVAC systems that either use 100% outside air with no recirculation or are able to be adjusted to a desired mix of outside/return air.  We have also upgraded air handler filters to the highest level possible.  In the latter, we have maximized the outside air with only a small portion of return air used to avoid freezing or overheating of equipment.  Buildings without these systems have windows that can be opened.  Classrooms with natural ventilation or cabinet unit ventilators are being equipped with additional HEPA filters for enhanced ventilation. 

What steps have been taken to enhance the efficiency of ventilation on campus?

To maximize ventilation effectiveness in all spaces our mechanical department has continuously monitored and followed the guidance from state/local public health agencies including Center for Disease Control, World Health Organization, Occupational Health and Safety Administration, ventilation industry experts (ASHRAE) and infectious disease control industry experts (AHIA and ACGIH). Guidelines are based upon current information and will be updated as advisories are adjusted and information changes. We have implemented the following best practices as recommended by leaders across all industries:

  • maximized they supply of outside air when the temperature is between 25-80 degrees
  • maintained minimum outdoor air flow rates by code 
  • upgraded HVAC filters to the highest levels possible 
  • flushed buildings two hours before and after occupancy to exchange all air with fresh air
  • installed portable HEPA filters in classrooms where recommended by industry guidance
Can UML increase the air-exchange rate in offices and other rooms?

Air exchange rates are governed by ASHRAE standards and have been set to the maximum allowable rate per equipment specifications. Increasing airflow beyond system designs can damage equipment.  

Was the HVAC system shut down in unoccupied areas?

Despite low occupancy in some areas across campus, all ventilation systems remained operable and well maintained. In those areas of low occupancy, the ventilation systems continued to operate in an “unoccupied” mode which reduces airflow and temperature settings without shutting down the system. As UML resumes normal operations, the ventilation systems will be adjusted to normal occupancy. All systems will be flushed two hours before and after occupancy to purge potential contaminants suspended in the air. Laboratories that require constant ventilation may continue to operate at a reduced air flow during unoccupied modes (4 ACH).

What temperature and humidity set points are needed to reduce the risks of COVID-19?

It remains unproven that changing the temperature and relative humidity of a space will have a measured reduction of risk for the transmission of COVID-19. To maximize the outside air and minimize recirculated air in buildings temperature set points in the summer are set at 77 degrees and during the winter at 68 degrees. During power savings curtailments the temperature settings are adjusted to achieve the desired results.

Is the University going to install enhanced ventilation in classrooms?

The university currently maintains the highest rated filters available in each building system. To support an anticipated increase in density during the fall semester, we currently reviewing options to install enhanced filtration in some areas and classrooms. 

Can I request a HEPA filter for my office or workspace?

If you wish to request a reasonable accommodation for your health-related conditions, please contact Equal Opportunity and Outreach at (978) 934-3565. If an individual does not qualify for a workplace accommodation they may request a work space review for a HEPA filter by emailing EHS@uml.edu. Office spaces with mechanical ventilation systems or single occupancy offices do not qualify for HEPA air purifiers. All requests must be submitted/forwarded to the Environmental Health & Safety office for initial review and response. 

Faculty and staff are encouraged to work with their supervisors to consider available administrative and operational measures (scheduling adjustments or use of departmental meeting spaces) prior to requesting a space review by EHS. Departments have been asked to identify department managed meeting spaces that could be used for these purposes. The EHS assessment will include the following considerations;

  1. Only spaces with unit ventilators and/or window ventilation will be considered.
  2. EHS will review the list of administrative and operational solutions that have been previously considered in advance of the space review. 
  3. EHS will review space configuration, ceiling height, and distance between simultaneously occupied work stations.
  4. KN95 masks may be suggested as an alternative to enhanced ventilation.

Assessment details will be reviewed by the Operations and Logistics committee for a final determination.