Researchers examine COVID-19 transmission and air circulation systems in buildings

Tamara Vineberg - 01 May 2020

Lisa Hartling is using her expertise in knowledge translation and epidemiology to investigate if COVID-19 can be transmitted through building ventilation systems.
A Department of Pediatrics faculty member is partnering with mechanical engineers to discover if there is a link between the transmission of COVID-19 and building ventilation. Lisa Hartling, director of the Alberta Research Centre for Health Evidence, was approached by Lexuan Zhong, assistant professor in the Faculty of Engineering, to become a co-principal investigator in the project.

“Zhong knew of my expertise in knowledge synthesis and knowledge translation, as well as my background in epidemiology, and thought that we could do some work that was truly collaborative,” says Hartling, a Stollery Science Lab Distinguished Researcher. “The purpose of our research is to understand the influence of heating, ventilation, and air conditioning (HVAC) design features on the transport and transmission of COVID-19.”

The research, funded by the Canadian Institutes of Health Research, the Natural Sciences and Engineering Research Council of Canada, and the Social Sciences and Humanities Research Council, involves three stages. First, they will systematically review literature on air circulation and viruses, and conduct an environmental scan of standards for HVAC systems. Second, Zhong will oversee laboratory work, modelling and simulation studies to improve understanding of coronavirus transmission in buildings and the role of HVAC control. Finally, they will conduct a detailed audit of 100 buildings at the University of Alberta.

“We hope that our research will inform the standards for the built environment outside of healthcare facilities—places like office buildings, residential buildings, schools, and daycares—where the potential impact on the public is substantial,” says Hartling.