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What if we could change the spread of COVID-19 by studying building design? What if we could test buildings instead of people for the virus? The University of Oregon’s Institute for Health in the Built Environment, partnered with the Biology and the Built Environment Center, is working to understand how COVID-19 moves through buildings. They are making building testing for COVID-19 a reality.

IHBE and BioBE have been studying coronavirus in different indoor environments. They are monitoring how different activities in these environments affect viral emission into the air. For example, a study on childbirth conducted in collaboration with OHSU evidenced that the prevalence of SARS-CoV-2 was greater after childbirth, likely due to an increase in heavy breathing, yelling, and excretions during labor. Knowing how something like giving birth affects the spread of SARS-CoV-2 within a room can help us alter the space to best prevent transmission.

Researchers at BioBE affirm that testing buildings by tracking the circulation and spread of SARS-CoV-2 particulates may be the key to restarting the economy. After all, if buildings can be safely set up to help manage viral spread, we can reduce transmission risks. BioBE has studied the effectiveness of several different risk mitigation strategies and compiled actionable steps to make spaces safer. Minimizing the recirculation of air, increasing filtration, and the flow of fresh air are some of the most effective air system strategies. Early detection through building testing is an added layer of prevention that may save lives. Until now, COVID-19 has mostly been studied on people, but the ability to test buildings may open new doors to disease prevention, revealing unseen risks, and providing new ways to manage those risks.