#Forward Together: What to know about ventilation and cleaning

Illustration of open window

While vaccines, testing and face coverings are the primary strategies for the return to in-person instruction, building environments on campus also play an important role in protecting the community’s health and safety and minimizing the spread of COVID-19.

To prepare classrooms, offices and common spaces for more users, the UO has increased airflow in buildings, established cleaning protocols required by the Occupational Safety and Health Administration and the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, and installed touchless bathroom faucets, towel dispensers and hand sanitizer dispensers across campus.

“Safety measures in our buildings, like enhanced ventilation and cleaning, are one of many layers providing protection against this disease,” Steve Stuckmeyer, director of environmental health and safety at the UO. "The CDC recommends a layered approach to infection control where multiple interventions interweave to reduce risk. Coupled with high vaccinations rates and face coverings, these environmental tactics have a role to play in keeping our campus community safe.”

Has the UO worked on its ventilation systems to increase airflow in campus buildings?

Throughout the pandemic, the UO Environmental Health and Safety Department has worked hand-in-hand with Campus Planning and Facilities Services to adjust building ventilation systems to maximize outside air supply to the extent allowed by each individual building’s mechanical systems.

The comprehensive ventilation strategy focusses on maximizing ventilation rates, optimizing air filtration, and reducing the re-entrainment (transfer from exhaust air to supply air) of contaminants.

UO building ventilation systems vary enormously by age and usage. Some buildings hold classrooms, some are used primarily for offices or labs, and some buildings combine all three. To accommodate these differences, UO buildings use a variety of ventilation systems to keep air circulating.

Some newer buildings and classrooms on campus are equipped with demand-control ventilation that monitors carbon dioxide in the airstream to increase ventilation when fully occupied and ensure outside air supply is appropriate for different levels of room occupancy. Some buildings are designed to provide constant volumes of ventilation determined by the maximum number of occupants for which a space was designed to serve.

Other buildings, or spaces within buildings, operate with natural ventilation systems, where operable windows can be opened to let air flow through. This is a common and effective building ventilation strategy in Oregon, west of the Cascades, owing to generally mild outdoor temperatures. The UO has also purchased and will be installing portable air filtration units in some heavily used classrooms within these buildings.

The UO has also installed MERV 13 filters in building systems that allow for increased filtration. This technology ensures that heating, ventilating and air conditioning systems function at a high level. In all buildings with active air filtration, Facilities Services assesses filter condition and air intake cleanliness quarterly and replaces filters and cleans intakes as required by the Oregon OSHA rule on COVID-19 infection control.

How will the university assess ventilation issues or concerns moving forward?

Once predominantly in-person classes begin, Facilities Services will proactively monitor the performance of ventilation and filtration systems and respond to problems or concerns reported by building occupants. Additionally, occupants are always encouraged to report indoor air quality concerns to UO Environmental Health and Safety. Both teams conduct independent assessments, share findings, and collaborate to determine appropriate solutions. Recommended solutions may include modifications to building systems, installing air filtration units or changing how a space is used.

How are buildings at the UO being cleaned?

Environmental Health and Safety has implemented COVID-19 cleaning protocols for campus partners that comply with guidelines from Oregon OSHA and the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention for preventing the spread of coronavirus.

Custodial crews for Facilities Services follow those protocols to regularly clean all shared spaces on campus, such as public and common areas, restrooms and break rooms. Crews will also perform daily cleaning of high-touch surfaces in campus academic buildings that are heavily used by UO students, including building entry hardware, elevator buttons, classroom entry hardware, and classroom seating. High-traffic student service facilities such as the Student Recreation Center, Erb Memorial Union, University Health Center and University Housing and Dining Services also have implemented cleaning procedures aligned with public health authority guidelines.

In some areas, individual users or departments are responsible for regularly cleaning and disinfecting equipment, items or spaces they share. The UO will make additional cleaning supplies available for those spaces.

Will additional cleaning be conducted in spaces known to have been used by someone infected with COVID-19?

Yes. When a person diagnosed with COVID-19 is known to have been on campus, the specific locations where the individual spent time while potentially infectious will be cleaned and sanitized by specifically trained and equipped custodial crews, in accordance with state and federal guidelines and with guidance from Environmental Health and Safety professionals.

What other strategies is the UO employing to prevent transmission of the virus on surfaces?

All restrooms in academic buildings now have hands-free faucets and towel dispensers. The UO has installed 628 touchless faucets and almost 700 touchless towel dispensers since the start of the pandemic.

Additionally, the university has purchased 300 hand-sanitizing gel dispensers for building entries and assembled roughly 750 sanitation wipe buckets available to use in all instruction spaces.

For more about plans for the new school year, see the main #ForwardTogether page.