MERV, HEPA filters might be the key
Unexpectedly, gyms, malls and movie theaters are not (yet) allowed to reopen in phase four of the "New York Forward" reopening plan.
At a Monday morning press conference, Gov. Andrew Cuomo announced air conditioning filters with a minimum efficiency reporting value (MERV) rating capable of filtering COVID-19 particles or similar air exchange measures will be mandatory for large mall reopenings.
A COVID-19 particle is approximately 0.125 microns in diameter. Filters with a high MERV, such as high-efficiency particulate air (HEPA) filters, have been shown to help reduce the presence of COIVD-19 in air filtration systems.
“There are air filtration devices – air filters that can actually help with the COVID virus and NASA has studied these,” Cuomo said. “There are HEPA filters, which are high-efficiency particulate air filters that can actually filter out the COVID virus. The COVID virus is 0.1 microns. There are HEPA filters that can filter out 0.01, so any malls that will open in New York – large malls – we will make it mandatory that they have air filtration systems that can filter out the COVID virus.
“For many of these systems, it depends on what filter you install, called the MERV rating of the filter. But they have different filters that filter out different sized particles, and they have filters that can actually filter out and catch the COVID virus.
“For large mall reopenings – which we haven't done yet – but we're going to make this mandatory. I would recommend – the state recommends – for all businesses and offices, they explore the potential for their air-conditioning/air-filtration system, adding a filter that can filter out the COVID virus. We have been looking at this issue, because we look around the country and you're seeing malls, you're seeing air-conditioning systems, indoor spaces that have been problematic. And we think this offers promise.”
On Friday, Cuomo explained, “Gyms, theaters, malls, we are still looking at the science and the data. There has been information that those situations have created issues in other states. If we have that information, we don't want to then go ahead until we know what we're doing, right?
“This is a road that no one has travelled on before. Logic suggests if you see a problem in other states that you explore it before you move forward in your state, and that's what we're doing with gyms, theaters and malls.”
He further explained, “The reason … we slowed on the malls, movie theaters, gyms … these interior spaces with large numbers of people that have recirculating air conditioning systems pose an issue. And I've spoken to a number of engineers about it. You get a movie theater, you get a mall, you have a large number of people. So, there's a possibility that you have the virus in the air, because you have a large number of people.”
Cuomo said, “We are looking at gyms. There’s a variety of information on gyms. It's impractical, most gym operators say, to tell people they have to wear a mask while exercising; so you don't wear a mask when you're on a treadmill, etc., because it restricts your breathing when you're running. So, now you have a number of people on treadmills, breathing in and out deeply on a treadmill.
“The deeper breaths, laughing, etc., shouting, tends to put more of the virus in the air, if you are positive. OK. If you are running and you're breathing deeply, exhaling deeply, you're on a treadmill, that might put more virus in the air. If you're a gym that also has an air conditioning system that is recirculating the air – then getting back to this whole filter conversation – that might be problematic.”
Speaking Monday afternoon on LCTV, Niagara County Legislature Chairwoman Becky Wydysh said, “We certainly will attempt to get more clarity on this issue and pass it along as we hear it. We know that gyms, especially, have been a big one that have come up: Gym owners having very good cleaning and safety protocol guidelines in place, that they feel that they could get opened up at this time. We will continue to advocate for that on our regional control room calls.
“We do know that many gyms are holding outdoor training classes, as they are allowed to do at this point; so, you might want to check with your facility to see if there are options available to you that you can use.”