The Andrews government’s $60 million in ventilation support package aims to encourage public-facing small businesses in Victoria to invest in equipment and services to mitigate the spread of airborne COVID-19 in their spaces.
Under the program unveiled last week, two types of support are available: a $500 rebate to purchase equipment or hire qualified contractors to improve ventilation in areas accessible to customers, and a matched $1000-$5000 grant for SMEs that employ staff to invest in larger projects such as building works, engaging professional services or equipment to improve ventilation.
Airborne COVID-19 was a contentious issue early in the pandemic, with the World Health Organization only recognising its significance in early 2021 after months of pressure from scientific and medical communities the world over.
Mitigating airborne spread has since become a focus of good COVID-management strategies, although many means, such as air purification, can be prohibitively expensive.
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Ivi Sims, founder of IAQ ventilation, a provider of indoor air quality products and solutions, welcomes moves like the Small Business Ventilation Program.
“A lot of businesses are trying to get staff back to work, and they don’t have a strategy to help give confidence to their staff on how prepared they are with regards to ventilation and COVID-19,” she said.
Ventilation, especially in small spaces, can often be as simple as opening doors and windows to permit airflow. It’s not guaranteed to mitigate airborne COVID-19 on its own but, combined with mask wearing, social distancing and vaccination, is part of a strong indoor management strategy.
Julien Colangelo, president of the Indoor Air Quality Association of Australia, calls it “one tool in the toolbag”.
There are also knock-on effects to be balanced, such as indoor comfort levels and higher energy consumption in the cooler months.
The Victorian Small Business Ventilation Program is the first of its type in Australia, and covers things like fixing windows to ensure they open, adding additional windows and doors to increase airflow, purchasing air purifiers or parts to enhance existing ventilation systems, as well as inspection, servicing, cleaning or installations by qualified professionals.
In March, Secure Your World chief Scott Cairns recommended CO2 monitoring for SMEs, too. CO2 monitors give an idea of just how much air has passed through people’s lungs remains in the atmosphere — crowded, poorly-ventilated spaces will have higher levels.
Appropriate ventilation will ensure clean air is circulated in, reducing CO2 levels. Going one step further, air purifiers equipped with HEPA (high efficiency particulate absorbing) filters absorb air and remove small particles, including COVID-19 aerosols.
None of these measures alone are the silver bullet.
“One small air purifier is not going to prevent everyone catching bugs, but it might be part of the solution” said Colangelo.
The same goes for CO2 monitoring.
“It’s a step in the right direction.
“Mask wearing is a different approach but there can be different people’s opinions on that one,” he said.
“Anything that can help is a good idea.”