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'First line of defense': COVID-19 prompts rethink in role of buildings

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Author: Carey L. Biron

Source: Thomson Reuters Foundation

From office workers to students, Americans facing colder weather and more time inside have a pressing question: How can they keep safe amid a pandemic that scientists say thrives in indoor settings?


The search for answers has prompted a new look at what architects and their buildings can do to help, both now and in the future.


"The built environment is a first line of defense in a pandemic - it makes the difference between whether you get a disease that will kill you or not," said Rachel Gutter, president of the International WELL Building Institute. "That's a real shift in how we think about buildings," she told the Thomson Reuters Foundation.


Gutter and her colleagues oversee a global set of standards for buildings aimed at promoting the health of their occupants. Some 4,900 projects in more than 60 countries are currently at some stage in the voluntary WELL certification process.


In September, the institute launched a major update that includes coronavirus-specific changes that it began piloting this summer, the result of work by about 600 public health officials, government officials, designers and more.


Last month, a group of U.S. scientists warned in an open letter published in the medical journal Science that infected aerosols - small droplets and particles - lingering in the air could be a major source of COVID-19 transmission.


The letter called on public health officials to highlight the importance of moving activities outdoors and improving indoor air, along with wearing masks and social distancing.


"COVID-19's favorite season is winter - like the seasonal flu, this virus loves the cold," Gutter said. "Indoor air quality considerations will be of even greater importance in regions of the world that are preparing for winter."


Read the full article here.