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Concordia web application suggests ways to reduce indoor coronavirus transmission

With the City-RPI web application, you can click on any building in Montreal, and it will produce a ranked list of the most effective steps that can be taken to reduce COVID-19 transmission inside.
Click to play video 'Montreal professor behind new web app to reduce indoor transmission of COVID-19' Montreal professor behind new web app to reduce indoor transmission of COVID-19
As winter sets in, Canadians will be forced to spend more time indoors, where the coronavirus can spread more easily. There are, however, steps we can take to reduce the risk of covid-19 transmission indoors. As Global’s Benson Cook reports, a new Montreal-made web application can make specific recommendations based on what building you're in. – Nov 4, 2020

Nearly a year after it first appeared, there’s still a lot unknown about COVID-19, the illness caused by the novel coronavirus.

But researchers do know quite a few things about how it, and all other airborne viruses, are transmitted indoors.

Concordia University engineering professor Leon Wang used that data, along with mathematical models developed by some of his colleagues, to create the City-RPI web application. With it, you can click on any building in Montreal, and it will produce a ranked list of the most effective steps that can be taken to reduce COVID-19 transmission inside.

“The target audience for these things are the general public, decision makers, building managers, facility managers, you know,” he explained.

Read more: CDC backtracks, says coronavirus could be spread through airborne transmission

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The aim is to take science that many industrial and civil engineers already use to measure things like airflow through ventilation systems, and democratize them. It’s especially important as the public looks for ways to protect ourselves from COVID-19 as the air gets colder, and many of us have to head indoors.

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One of the ways often suggested by the app is a MERV-13 air duct filter. The app suggests it could help nearly any building drive down indoor virus transmission to at least some degree. You can get one for under $100 at many hardware stores.

According to the app, Montreal’s Welcome Hall Mission’s building in the western corner of St. Henri could put a MERV-13 filter to good use, but things like universal mask-wearing inside and reducing capacity by half would be almost as effective.

Click to play video 'The Concordia researcher developing a COVID-19 vaccine from home' The Concordia researcher developing a COVID-19 vaccine from home
The Concordia researcher developing a COVID-19 vaccine from home – Aug 3, 2020

While Executive Director Sam Watts told Global News he isn’t sure if one is installed in the building, he said most of the others, especially masks and capacity reduction, are things they’ve been doing for months.

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“One really good example of that is the cafeteria”, he explained. “So, whereas about a hundred people used to eat in there at a time, it’s now about a dozen, sometimes less.”

He added that another of the app’s recommendations that somewhat lower on its list of suggestions, an air purifier, is also being used in various parts of the building, including its free dental clinic and in some residents’ rooms.

Read more: Many COVID-19 cases resulting from public spaces, Concordia University research shows

A few kilometres away, at the Eaton Centre in the heart of downtown Montreal, City-RPI says reducing how long visitors stay inside by half (for example, from four hours to two), along with upgraded air filtration, would be effective at reducing COVID-19 spread inside.

The Eaton Centre’s owners, Ivanhoé Cambridge, confirmed to Global News that the Eaton Centre already has air filters equivalent to MERV-13s installed.

Wang emphasized the app makes multiple recommendations because there are multiple strategies building managers, homeowners and businesses can take to suppress the transmission of COVID-19 indoors.

“We have the technology, the measures, to prevent the spreading,” he said.