The Covid-19 Pandemic and Maintenance Technologies in High-Traffic Campus Spaces

University or college campuses simply cannot function without regular maintenance, and the endeavor of maintaining an entire campus, whether large or comparatively small in size, requires an incredible amount of planning, effort, and teamwork. On the majority of campuses, Facilities Management tackles the duties of preventative care and upkeep of all buildings, in addition to cleaning and sanitizing, attending to waste and recycling infrastructure, as well as multiple other responsibilities that collectively keep our campuses functional, safe, and looking great.

With the Covid-19 pandemic still a reality on campus for the foreseeable future, the role played by Facilities Management is more essential than ever. High-traffic campus spaces are most vulnerable to the spread of the virus, and Facilities Management has devoted its efforts to curb any potential outbreak. Its successes thus far are in part a result of combining hard work and ingenuity with maintenance technologies, a number of which will be highlighted in the following sections.

Separation Screens and Sanitation Carts

It is no wonder that students and teachers are eager to return full-time to the classroom since the space remains the hub of any higher education experience. But even if hybrid classrooms represent the safest and most realistic option next spring, the classrooms occupied are still maintained with the utmost standards of care and safety. This is where Facility Management comes in, with preventative maintenance that keeps classrooms safe and clean.

For students attending in-person, one safety option to compliment social distancing and mask-wearing is that of separation screens. These are designed in smooth transparent or white plastic, and can be installed directly to a desk or as freestanding screens. Sightlines are maintained in both cases, and cutouts are available for convenience, so that documents and small items can be transferred.

Also available is a moveable screen that provides a transparent shield between the teacher and students. The screen is lightweight and fixed to wheels at the base, and can therefore be moved around the classroom with ease. Ideally, each classroom would also be equipped with a mobile cart, which could operate as a self-cleaning station where students and teachers can sanitize their hands and assist Facilities Management with cleaning their tables after use. This practice, if adopted at the conclusion of every class session, would go a long way towards normalizing vital sanitation habits.

Separation screens and sanitation carts are also needed in high-traffic areas where money and/or goods are exchanged. For anyone at a public-facing station—at a register or information desk, for instance—a separation screen can provide an added layer of protection. The cutout options allow for contactless temperature readings, passage of any necessary documents or items, and communication.

In administrative or study settings where desk furniture may be designed for multiple users, there is no need for a costly overhaul. Work surface dividers offer easy-to-clean barriers as well as added privacy. And while the appearance of a mobile glass partition inside a classroom is of secondary importance to its utility, appearance may matter more in spaces where a desired aesthetic is in place—perhaps a library, an administrative office, or the entrance floor of a central building. Available now are mobile glass partitions fixed to a durable base, and these come in multiple sizes and colors. Again, the need for a costly overhaul of furniture is diminished.

The “Health Mirror”

Students, faculty, and staff are aware of the essential role that consistent handwashing plays in mitigating the spread of the virus—but everyone needs a good reminder now and then. An emerging tech tool reinforcing handwashing could prove beneficial. The market for pandemic-
inspired technologies now includes a smart mirror that can detect the presence of persons as soon they wave at it, and then it walks them through the multi-step handwashing process recommended by the WHO in a 35-second animated video.

Concepts like the “health mirror” work in conjunction with coronavirus-related signage to raise awareness of health and safety practices, and also to keep everyone in the moment—because it takes only one slip-up to spread or contract germs. That the “health mirror” goes “live” when prompted by movement only increases the odds that users will take notice and maintain sound habits. It is relatively easy to overlook or forget about signage, less so when the signage transforms into an instructional video.

A small, as-yet unpublished study conducted by Kanav Kahol, the inventor of one such mirror, found that 98% of people complied with the WHO handwashing protocol when following the mirror’s instructions. Just imagine the potential here, both during the pandemic and afterwards. A “health mirror” installed in the most high-trafficked restrooms on campus—on the main floor of a library; near the entrance of a recreation and wellness center; in sports arenas—could make a huge impact now, but it could also be programmed to emergency notifications, alerting campus occupants to inclement weather or in the event of a fire.

Best Practices for Facilitating Clean Air

While much has been written during the pandemic about cleaning and disinfecting frequently touched surfaces, perhaps it is all too easy to forget what we do not see or touch in high-traffic spaces, whether in the classroom, dormitory, cafeteria, student union, or elsewhere. It has been stressed by the CDC that ventilation and filtration provided by heating, ventilating, and air-conditioning systems can reduce the airborne concentration of Covid-19. Unconditioned spaces can cause thermal stress to people that may be directly life threatening and that may also lower resistance to infection. In general, the disabling of heating, ventilating, and air-conditioning systems is not a recommended measure to reduce the transmission of the virus.

Prevention strategies, those which can be fulfilled by Facility Management, should include the following: replacing filters (every 1 to 6 months); cleaning evaporator and condenser coils (once or twice per year); inspecting fans, bearings, and belts (twice per year); looking at the area around the air intake (twice per year); addressing leaks in cabinets and ducts (annually); cleaning and inspecting dampers (annually); cleaning ducts (at least annually).

Also available is bipolar ionization technology, which can be acquired by way of portable ion generators. The generators can help mitigate or at least reduce the spread of bacteria and viruses throughout a space, and this technology works by introducing positive and negative ions into the air. The ionization causes production of clusters of hydroxyl (OH) radicals, which are formed on the surface of microbes, removing hydrogen from the microbes’ cell walls, thereby inactivating potentially infectious particles.

For a high-traffic environment where microbes can interact with ions and fall to surfaces like desks or group-sized tables, it is worth noting that placing ionizers into the environment would not preclude the need to frequently wash hands, socially distance, and wear a mask.

Other Smart & Healthy Maintenance Solutions for Interior Spaces

Because high-traffic spaces on campus are vulnerable to the spread of germs, Facility Management is sensible to equip these spaces with materials that uphold even the most stringent infection control standards. The following materials all aid in this task:

  • Paint Shield/Registered Anti-Microbial Paint kills 99.9% of aerogenes within two hours of exposure on painted surfaces and continues fighting for up to four years post-application
  • Copper fixtures and copper-infused mesh or upholstery on furniture mitigates bacterial and viral transmissions
  • Silver ion technology is integrated into many coatings, polymers, and textiles at the molecular level of the product and are not susceptible to wash-offs; this antimicrobial technology can be specified for common fixtures including light switches, door handles, water tanks, and carpet
  • Lighting fixtures with disinfection technology can be used in high-acuity spaces such as a research lab; these kill up to 99.7% of common surface pathogens over an 8-hour period
  • Seal sinks, wall bases, and other nooks and crannies to eliminate hard-to-reach contaminants; mitigate surface-borne pathogens with impervious hard counter services; improve cleanability with impermeable upholstery on common seating areas.

Harmonizing Design with Control Standards

For Facility Management, the endeavor of keeping our campuses functional, safe, and looking great is as challenging as ever. Maintenance technologies can and do make a difference, and it is reassuring that for interior spaces, design and functionality are not hindered by these technologies. To the contrary, maintenance technologies can make our high-traffic spaces more appealing just as they fight potential contaminants.

This is our chance to evaluate and make changes if necessary. We will get through the pandemic, and we will be wiser for it.

About the Author
David Vinson, PUPN staff writer, has a PhD in English with specializations in transatlantic literature and cultural studies. He is a committed scholar, teacher, husband, and dad. If you ever meet David, avoid the subject of soccer. His fandom borders on the truly obnoxious.