Half of all people who have died from Covid-19 in Ireland have been infected in fewer than 400 buildings and many deaths could have been prevented with proper ventilation systems, a leading expert on the built environment has said.
Orla Hegarty, an assistant professor at UCD’s school of architecture, said the deaths occurred in 0.03% of the state’s housing stock, out of 2.5 million buildings.
She claimed that the government and the National Public Health Emergency Team (Nphet) have consistently downplayed the importance of adequate ventilation in buildings as an essential preventive measure against the spread of the virus.
Signaling that building ventilation will be the next big front in the debate over combating Covid-19 in Ireland, Professor Hegarty said: “The framing of this from the start has been: ‘It’s a medical mystery that we hit out of nowhere.
Nphet “after the fact”
âBut, it’s a problem with the buildings. There is not enough transmission in clean air to have a pandemic. The problem is, there is enough transmission in the unclear air for there to be a pandemic. Until we get to the root of this, we’re not going anywhere, âshe said.
Professor Hegarty argued that good ventilation of buildings to ensure a constant supply of clean air, in addition to proper masking protocols, is the most effective way to suppress the spread of the virus.
She said buildings erected in Ireland in the past were designed to prevent the spread of respiratory diseases such as tuberculosis, mainly by ensuring there are adequate drafts blowing inside.
“I still don’t believe I heard anyone from Nphet speak with any understanding of transmission or prevention,” Professor Hegarty said.
âWhen they mention ventilation, it’s normally an afterthought after mentioning hand washing or masks or social distancing.
âWe have very clear evidence, and we have had it for a long time, of how the virus is transmitted. It is rare to be transmitted by the hands.
âIt is spread by inhaling infected air. It is not in a form that falls to the ground within two meters. It is in a form that emits tiny particles that people inhale. It’s a bit like cigarette smoke and even if you are across the room you are at risk of getting infected.
Professor Hegarty was a member of a government expert panel on ventilation that advised Nphet directly and then the government. However, she resigned over the summer after a few of her recommendations were adopted.
While the government implemented a key recommendation to introduce CO2 monitors for schools, Professor Hegarty insisted more was needed, including proper masking and the introduction of CO2 filtration systems. air in buildings that present the greatest risk.
Even with CO2 monitors, some schools have difficulty ventilating rooms properly, especially on quiet days. She said installing relatively inexpensive Hepa air filtration systems would be key.
Foreign Minister Simon Coveney said on Sunday that the government and Nphet had included strong messages about ventilation for many months.