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Building Design Post COVID19

Joseph Allen is assistant professor at T. H. Chan School of Public Health at Harvard, coauthor of Healthy Buildings: How Indoor Spaces Drive Performance and Productivity.

For the first time in history, everyone around the world is recognizing how the indoor environment influences our health. Right now, the focus will be on infectious disease, as it should be. But I think it will morph into a conversation about “what else is happening in this building?” And “how does this building promote my health, the acoustics, the lighting, the chemicals in the furniture I’m sitting on?”

"We’ve been in a “sick building” era since our decisions around ventilation in the ’70s in response to the energy crisis, where we started to tighten up our building envelopes and choke off the air supply. We need to increase the amount of air that’s coming in to dilute airborne contaminants. Schools are chronically under-ventilated. Most buildings are meeting this bare minimum ventilation standard. That needs to change."

We know that higher ventilation rates are associated with lower infectious disease transmission, better cognitive performance, less worker absenteeism. So the value proposition is already there. Right now, building decisions are largely on the facility side, and their mandate is around energy, not necessarily health and performance of the workers. A CEO might take a very different view of this because across the enterprise, they see these benefits.

One in three [COVID-19-related] deaths in the U.S. is associated with people at a senior home. Nine of the top 10 biggest clusters are in meatpacking plants or prisons. People in lower-income communities are 10 times more likely to have COVID. We have to start to use this new data to be more targeted and supportive of the places and people who are hardest hit. We have to start providing this precision support. We have a responsibility to help those who are most vulnerable. At the same time, it helps the entire population, because you start to tamp down on these events or locations that can lead to more outbreaks.

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