The proverb “Hindsight is 20/20” brings new meaning in the year 2020 as we look back at the COVID-19 pandemic and as we transition into 2021. The Stone House Group was no exception in terms of the adversity we faced particularly in our involvement with healthcare institutions.
On March 11th, 2020 The Stone House Group was actively engaged at one of the new regional based hospitals when the WHO officially announced that the COVID-19 outbreak was now classified as a pandemic. The tone and focus immediately shifted from our role in our final phase of post occupancy commissioning to assisting the facilities staff in understanding the capabilities and limitations of the systems in terms of environmental controls.
Fundamentally, many of the protocols that have existed since the 1918 Flu pandemic such as social distancing, isolation, quarantine and wearing of masks were instituted. However, the demographics of our society have changed significantly with the world population of 1918 being 1.8 billion in comparison to our current population of 7.8 billion in just over a 100-year time frame. Technological advances in healthcare have changed exponentially where healthcare institutions are required to meet standards instituted by the Joint Commission, ASHRAE, Facilities Guideline Institute, NFPA and numerous state and federal agencies.
The challenge even though modern hospitals have stringent infectious control protocols such as sterilization, pressurization, HEPA filtration, UV-C filtration and temperature and humidity requirements; how to handle the potential of a large-scale infection rate such as in 1918 where 1/3 of the population was affected without overwhelming our current infrastructure. The COVID-19 pandemic appeared not to have any boundaries nor did it discriminate on its potential host. What future risks may our modern society be faced with in terms of pandemic potential?
The present and future undoubtedly will influence hospital and overall building design as we have seen with ASHRAE studies such as “ASHRAE Position Document on Airborne Infectious Diseases” and “ASHRAE Epidemic Task Force”. More universal acceptance of many of the filtration and control technologies already adapted for healthcare as well as examining changes for resiliency in the healthcare industry in general. Healthcare; in terms of building design will be looking at mitigation. Air handling capacities with capabilities for 100% outdoor air and exhaust for zone isolation and air distribution strategies to provide more capabilities to isolate individual floors and defined building areas. Robust pressurization strategies, multi-function layout and floor space as well as evaluation of new filtration and decontamination technologies to name a few will need to be considered as we focus on lessons learned.