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Repurposing to fight the pandemic

In the face of the COVID onslaught, Maher Moussa, Director of Product Management, Sustainability and Energy Efficiency Policy, Al Salem Johnson Controls, describes how regular hotel rooms can be transformed into temporary, precautionary isolation rooms

| | Jun 4, 2020 | 9:22 am
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With hospitals and health centres coming under severe pressure due to COVID-19, the government of Saudi Arabia has resorted to turning hotel rooms or regular patient rooms into temporary precautionary quarantine or isolation rooms, to isolate the suspected cases. This is being done in compliance with the World Health Organization (WHO) guidelines, and under the direct supervision of the Ministry of Health and the National Center for Disease Prevention in the Kingdom.

Now, many may wonder how the transformation can be brought about. Let’s look at the various aspects.

Important prerequisites

When converting a regular room into an isolation room, there are a number of basic requirements that should be met. These include:

1) Ensuring that the air entering the room through HVAC systems is 100% pure and fresh

2) Ensuring continuous maintenance of negative pressure in the room

3) Replacing the air inside the room with fresh air, between six and 12 times per hour – depending on the size of the room

4) Controlling and maintaining temperature and humidity at very specified levels

5) Mandating filtered exhaust fans, to ensure that exhausted (expelled) air, containing microbes and pollutants, is filtered before being released out of the building


Today, there are a number of integrated solutions and systems at our disposal. These enable HVAC systems to work with Building Management Systems to contribute in converting hotel rooms or even regular hospital rooms into temporary isolation rooms, thereby preventing the spread of virus and disease, provided all the aforementioned prerequisites exist.

Isolation technology

As a first step, it is necessary to ensure that windows and doors are securely isolated, to ensure that no air from the outside enters the room, except from the air-handling unit. Standard room isolation technology relies on controlling the room pressure differential – negative and positive pressure. The objective here is to have the isolated room under negative pressure to prevent any virus or bacteria from being transmitted out of the isolation room; this prevents the spread of infection to other parts of the hotel or hospital.

When converting a regular room into an isolation room, it is not advisable to recirculate the air, to avoid the transmission of microbes within the room. Hence, it is essential to have a source that provides 100% fresh air, and offers a system for exhausting contaminated air outside the building, with the installation of a controller that monitors and adjusts the air change rate per hour. Additionally, room pressure should be monitored and maintained lower than the surrounding zones (negative pressure). To ensure that the contaminated air in the room is safely exhausted out of the building, the exhaust fan must be equipped with a high-efficiency filter (HEPA-filter).

Looking at the future

While taking the aforementioned steps is a matter of urgency to contain the diseases, it is wise and prudent to as much look at the future – about how we design our buildings to protect ourselves from future pandemics. It is imperative that facilities and consultants should incorporate the basic requirements at the design stage, to enable the upgrade of technologies in future hotels and healthcare projects. Doing so will enable the transformation of regular rooms into precautionary quarantine and isolation rooms in record time, when required.

Typically, such technologies as hygienic air-handling units, multi-fan array air-handling units and variable-speed drives are allies in the mission to combat pandemics. Add to the list BMS, which can integrate various data-enabled technologies into one central digital platform for monitoring, controlling and reporting. This can ensure that the environmental conditions are maintained at the recommended levels, and monitored in real-time by officials located anywhere, by using cloud-enabled smart devices connected to the Internet.


The writer is able to receive feedback at a.inayat@w7worldwide.com

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