Expert tips for better air hygiene at venues during COVID-19

Hospitality venues are being urged to act now to improve their air hygiene as COVID-19 cases surge across the country.

Recently commissioned research by Rentokil Initial has revealed that Australians feel most at risk from COVID-19 and other airborne viruses in shopping centres and hospitality venues (68% each), closely followed by hotels and aged care facilities (67% each), medical practices (64%) and workplaces (55%).

Four in five Australians (83%) believe businesses have a responsibility to protect customers against health and hygiene risks, and two thirds of Aussies (64%) are more likely to visit an indoor venue that has air hygiene protocols in place. The research also found that over three quarters of Australians (77%) agree that protecting against COVID-19 airborne transmission risks in enclosed spaces is crucial in the return to normal.

“While the days of COVID zero may be behind us, it’s not too late for the hospitality industry to act now to tackle the critical issue of indoor air quality and make these spaces safer for staff and patrons,” said Rentokil Initial Managing Director, Pacific, Andrew Stone. “It’s not only good for health and wellbeing, but also essential for good business.”

As well as ensuring vaccination, good hand hygiene and isolating if you’re feeling unwell, Stone said COVID-safe plans should include investing in safe and effective air purification technology to provide an additional layer of protection and reassurance to patrons, by generating healthier, cleaner air by removing over 99.95% of harmful airborne particles, including bacteria and viruses, from indoor environments.

“We know COVID-19, especially the Omicron variant, largely spreads by aerosol transmission and when people are indoors mixing for extended periods of time,” said Stone.

“This has created a perfect storm of conditions, triggering a string of COVID-19 super spreader events at homes and venues across the country, resulting in record high infection rates, chronic staff shortages and low consumer confidence.”

Minimising the spread of COVID in venues

Drinks Digest spoke to the former Dean of Science at University of Technology Sydney, Professor Bruce Milthorpe about steps venues can take to ensure air hygiene is high.

According to Professor Milthorpe, given the extremely high transmissibility of the Omicron strain – which looks to be almost as infectious as measles – it’s essential to minimise exposure to the virus.

He suggests:

  • Using good personal protective equipment and sanitising hands and surfaces thoroughly, as well as bringing back QR codes and full vaccination checks.
  • A good mask (surgical or N95) should be well-fitted over both nose and mouth. A face shield for bar or serving staff facing the public would also help to protect against infection occurring through the eyes. If possible, it would be preferred for all staff and patrons to have a negative rapid antigen test less than two hours before entering the venue. Any showing signs of illness should not attend.
  • At a minimum, hospitality venues need to ensure they open all doors and windows, wherever possible. If there are no doors and windows that can be opened, ask that the fresh air intake of air conditioning units be taken to maximum. Remember, your air conditioning must draw air from outside, not just recycle internal air – otherwise you risk just spreading the virus around the venue.
  • If air quality is still low, then venues need to consider investing in HEPA filter air purification devices. For additional protection at larger venues, devices that include an air purification, filtration and decontamination should be considered.

The keys to better indoor air quality

Professor Milthorpe said the best way for venues to ensure their indoor air hygiene is high is by checking the ventilation.

“The most accurate way to do this is to get several CO2 monitors – small handheld ones sell online for between $50 to $100 – and place them in various parts of the room, especially near where people tend to congregate, and not near open windows or doors,” he said.

“If the CO2 level goes past 800 ppm on any of the monitors, then there is a ventilation problem.

“A less accurate, but still serviceable, work-around is to see if the room feels muggy or there’s a noticeable smell in the air when staff first arrive. This includes if the air just smells a bit stale, or you can still smell drinks or food from the night before – this means you have poor ventilation.”

Professor Milthorpe said air purification devices are crucial in environments where natural ventilation – including the opening of windows and doors – is not always possible. If fresh air cannot be pumped into the room at a much higher rate via windows or air conditioning that draws its air from outside, then at a minimum, HEPA filter air purifiers are required.

“Air purifiers need to be placed in areas that have ‘dead air’ such as toilets and the corners of rooms, as well as where people tend to congregate,” he said. “This won’t reduce the CO2 levels but should reduce the viral load of the virus in the air, if done properly. High activity zones, like dance floors, are very extremely high risk as the air quality will be low even if the rest of the venue is well ventilated and should be avoided by staff if possible.

“It’s also important to remember that air purifiers should be installed and cleaned regularly by trained technicians, so that factors affecting indoor air quality such as natural ventilation, air conditioning, flow of air and breath zone, are considered and accounted for by professionals.”

Advances in air purification technology

Stone agrees that COVID-safe plans for venues should include investing in safe and effective air purification technology to provide an additional layer of protection and reassurance to patrons, by generating healthier, cleaner air.

“While it has become globally accepted by the World Health Organisation that COVID-19 can be transmitted through the air we breathe, Australian guidelines and standards for protection still lag,” he said.

“HEPA filtration takes some steps to minimise the transmission of airborne diseases such as COVID-19, however advanced air purification technology on the market, such as VIRUSKILLER, an air purification, filtration and decontamination device goes beyond the bare minimum of HEPA filtration.

“VIRUSKILLER safely decontaminates indoor air, providing real-time protection from airborne viruses and bacteria, indoor air pollutants, pathogens, and allergens, providing comfort and relief to allergy sufferers and greater protection for patrons or staff with acute respiratory conditions and illnesses.

“Beyond the product solution itself, Rentokil Initial is unique in the Australian market in that it provides a unique service model which ensures trained technicians to expertly place and regularly clean devices to ensure maximum effectiveness. This ultimately removes the burden from staff, whose primary responsibility is to serve patrons.”

Rentokil Initial named Official Hygiene Partner of the Australian Open 2022

As the Australian Open kicks off, Rentokil Initial has been announced as the Official Hygiene Partner of the Grand Slam event for a second consecutive year.

As part of the partnership, 70 VIRUSKILLER air purification devices have been strategically positioned throughout the tournament’s indoor venues, providing cleaner, more hygienic, and safer air. The installation of the devices is an Australian
-first for a major international sporting event.

In addition, 800 easily accessible, touch-free hand sanitisers and antibacterial wipe stations will be placed near high touch surfaces and common areas around the Australian Open precinct.

“Over the past 18 months, we’ve all become very familiar with washing and sanitising both our hands and surfaces, wearing masks and social distancing,” Stone said. “However, to keep this year’s first large scale event in Australia as safe as possible, it is crucial for Rentokil to take additional steps to minimise the risk of airborne transmission.

“By taking a 360-degree approach and incorporating hand, surface, and air hygiene at this year’s Australian Open, Rentokil Initial can help to provide attendees with greater peace of mind during one of the most anticipated events on the international sporting calendar.”

“The health and safety of fans, officials, players and our AO workforce is our number one priority and to continue the partnership with a trusted brand in Initial will help ensure fans are protected and can play it safe while enjoying a day at the event,” Tennis Australia Head of Biosecurity Liam Grigg said.

Canadian Club’s winning serve at Australia Open 2022

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