UCO updates air filtration to combat COVID-19

Written by: Sarah Hite and Lauren Morris

Hospital-grade filters should be installed and running at the University of Central Oklahoma this week, and a facilities official stated the university has enough filters to last until summer.

The Centers for Disease Control website recommends using the guidelines developed by the American Society of Heating, Refrigerating and Air Conditioning Engineers for back-to-school upgrades durning the pandemic.

ASHRAE recommends upgrading to MERV 13 filters and increasing run time of air filtration systems ensuring a better chance of catching more particles.

According to ASHRAE, the fraction of particles removed from air passing through a filter is termed “filter efficiency” and is provided by the Minimum Efficiency Reporting Value under standard conditions.

The university is currently in the process of replacing the current MERV 8 filters with MERV 13 across the campus.

The main difference between the filters is the MERV 13 filters improve air quality and can filter down to 1-3 micron particle size, while MERV 8 filters down to 3-10 microns, according to Mark Rodolf, assistant vice president for facilities management.

The Mayo Clinic reports the size of SARS-CoV-2, the virus that causes COVID-19, is about 0.12 microns in diameter and CDC says the main way the coronavirus is spread is through close contact with an infected person – within 6 feet – through respiratory droplets that are produced when the person coughs or sneezes.

Coronavirus is encased in the respiratory droplets, which are larger than the individual virus particle.

MERV 13 filters capture airborne viruses and bacteria from coughs and sneezes, according to the CDC website.

Rodolf said the MERV 13 filters are more expensive and must be replaced more frequently, as they catch more particles. The installations are 95% complete and should be done sometime this week.

“We will also be running our systems longer than normal to generate a higher rate of air exchange throughout the day,” Rodolf stated. “This will increase the volume of fresh air coming into the buildings which will replace potentially virus-contaminated air. Changing room air is a widely used measure for infection prevention and control.”

ASHRAE recommends that the system be up and running approximately a week before students return.

Adrienne Nobles, vice president for communications and public affairs spoke about the new ventilation being a big part of the safety transition at UCO.

With the campus having older buildings, the air conditioning units are older as well. The replacement of filters is an added layer of security for students, faculty and staff against the coronavirus spreading on campus, Nobles said.

Rodolf stated in an email:

“Funding was not a consideration in the decision. These are commercial grade filters, not found on Amazon, and require more frequent replacement throughout the year since they trap more particles. We were fortunate to obtain enough inventory to get us through next summer as demand has increased dramatically since early May.”

The ASHRAE website explains, technically high efficiency particulate air filters, commonly referred to as HEPA, are more efficient than MERV 16 filters. The Vista inquired why the university would upgrade MERV filters instead of installing HEPA.

Rodolf stated the MERV filters are nearly as efficient as the HEPA and could be installed without major modification or a more powerful fan system than currently exists on campus.

According to New York Engineers, while a MERV 16 filter captures >95% of particles in the entire size range tested (0.3-10.0 microns), a HEPA filter captures 99.97% of particles with a size of 0.3 microns.

“Experimental data and theoretical predictions indicate that medium-efficiency air filters, MERV between 7 and 13, are likely to be almost as effective as true HEPA filters in reducing the concentrations of most indoor particles linked to health effects,” Rodolf stated.

Replacing filters is only one step being taken by UCO to help slow the spread of COVID-19. Rodolf also said UCO is installing approximately 900 Plexiglas shields and 500 wall-mounted hand sanitizer dispensers.

The university created a comprehensive safety plan in order to help students take the necessary precautions.

The guidelines include details on mask wearing, social distancing and extended classrooms. Even the syllabi will be different, the student conduct procedure has been updated to include mask mandates and punishment details.

Fall classes begin Monday. University officials recommend staying tuned to your student email for the most recent details on your courses.

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