Cary company working to make offices safer from virus for workers

Posted February 25, 2021 5:22 p.m. EST
Updated February 25, 2021 7:49 p.m. EST

— A Cary company is running experiments to see how airflow in a building, specifically in a workplace, can impact how COVID-19 germs are spread.

3Flow, which specializes in preventing the spread of hazardous chemicals in laboratory settings, has been using a benign fog to simulate coronavirus particles and mannequins with and without masks to measure the amount of particles they are taking in.

Owner Tom Smith said it’s important for companies to investigate and understand the airflow in their buildings and set up spaces accordingly.

"We wanted to see how effective is this space at protecting our own people," Smith said of experiments 3Flow performs in a typical office conference room. "The room airflow patterns – how do we optimize them them so we minimize the risk of someone to downstream?"

The experiments show that even double-masking can't completely stop virus particles from moving about the room.

"The airborne transmission is very small particles that can escape outside the mask," he said. "It's migrating through the space."

Although requiring workers to wear masks and not congregate will help limit the spread of the virus, Smith said companies also will need to reconfigure offices and set limits on how many people are allowed in specific rooms. Most also will need to study the airflow produced by the office HVAC system and invest in a filtration system to minimize the risk of infection if they want to bring workers back to the office, he said.

"We're reducing the risk to as low as is achievable, and that's the strategy," he said.

Even though Gov. Roy Cooper is easing some pandemic-related restrictions, both he and Dr. Mandy Cohen, secretary of the state Department of Health and Human Services, said Wednesday that people should continue to work remotely, if possible, to reduce the risk of virus transmission.

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