New model raises questions about whether offices can safely be adapted for coronavirus

26 June 2020

A model to predict how coronavirus particles could move through buildings, published in Sustainability Journal, raises questions about currently perceived social distancing safety measures in offices and other work spaces.

Developed by Ljubomir Jankovic, Professor of Advanced Building Design at the University of Hertfordshire, the simulations show that exhaled droplets capable of carrying the virus can remain suspended in internal spaces over long periods, exceeding by far the social distancing measures.

The model, which was developed using the Unity Games Development Platform, shows that smaller particles can stay suspended in the air for long periods of time, making it challenging to capture and eliminate them from internal spaces. Contrary to the common understanding that droplets fall to the floor as they start to evaporate and lose their mass, Jankovic found that they become lighter, start rising towards the ceiling, and stay in the breathing zone over sufficient time to be inhaled.

The simulations show that commonly used ventilation systems might not effectively clear the air of infected particles. While turbulent air flow spreads the droplets throughout the space, uniform airflow introduced from one side of the space gathers droplets on the other side for easier extraction.

Professor Jankovic commented: 'With conversations about how and when employees can return to work, it’s vitally important that employers are consulting the most up to date information. The behaviour of particles and the effectiveness of ventilation systems must be taken into account when deciding how offices and other buildings can be made safe to be reoccupied.'

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