The COVID-19 Pandemic: Why did we close Wekiva Island?

By William C. Weinaug Jr.

P.E., President Wekiva Island

Since the beginning of the COVID-19 crisis, Wekiva Island has been diligent about our actions. Of course, it started with extremely heightened disinfection procedures. We immediately cancelled all events and closed down our buildings to public access. Before social distancing became the norm, we designed new gathering guidelines to accommodate smaller groups with enhanced space requirements.

Although we believed that allowing our community access to the incredible Wekiva River for a simple, SAFE retreat to nature would be our mission in this crisis, we soon voluntarily cut occupancy, stopped selling alcohol and closed down our food operations. The families who came to visit us thanked us for keeping the river open for the community’s sanity as long as we could. BUT … this was difficult to monitor.

With the community’s best interest in mind, we made the difficult decision to shut down our operations for the immediate future. My guess is two months at best but likely three. Like so many other small businesses in our community, our 45 employees are now out of work. Of course, we will do our best to help them through these crazy times, but my heart pains for all of them.

Knowledge is emerging about COVID-19 and how the disease spreads. While initial research has been released, it will take years to reach scientific consensus. Even in the face of incomplete knowledge, it is critically important for all of us to communicate and reinforce how social distancing and hygiene affect the spread of this disease and its impact not just on ourselves and our loved ones, but on society as a whole. The consequences of overwhelming the capacity of our healthcare systems are enormous, potentially tragic, and real.

According to the World Health Organization, “The COVID-19 virus spreads primarily through droplets of saliva or discharge from the nose when an infected person coughs or sneezes.” However, talking and breathing also release droplets and particles. Droplets generally fall to the ground or other surfaces in about three feet. Aerosol particles from a sneeze or cough behave more like a gas and can travel through the air long distances. The virus can be picked up by hands that touch contaminated surfaces or be re-entrained into the air when disturbed on surfaces. There is evidence that it can remain infectious for three hours.

The most significant mechanism of virus dissemination are likely:

  • Direct person-to-person contact
  • Indirect contact through inanimate objects like doorknobs
  • Through the hands to mucous membranes such as those in the nose, mouth and eyes
  • Through droplets and possibly particles spread between people in close proximity

We are now playing a “game” of chance, and the fewer individuals who come in close contact with each other, the lower the probability for spread of the disease. Since symptoms do not become apparent for days or weeks, each of us must behave as though we are infected. This is the reason the Wekiva Island is now closed.

Other public buildings, considered essential to varying degrees, will remain open during this crisis. These facilities include food, hardware and drug stores, and of course, hospitals and healthcare facilities.

For those of you who choose to remain open you must:

  • Increase disinfection of frequently touched surfaces
  • Install more hand sanitation dispensers, assuming they can be procured
  • Shut down food preparation and warming areas, including the office pantry and coffee stations
  • Close or post warning signs at water fountains in favor of bottle filling stations and sinks, or even better, encourage employees to bring their water from home

Now, you may or may not know, designing the air conditioning systems in the buildings we live in and visit has been my livelihood. I wanted to add to this and share some of the knowledge I have learned and am learning about COVID-19. Much of the info below was taken from a recent article written by Lawrence J. Schoen, P.E., Fellow/Life Member ASHRAE published in the ASHRAE Journal Newsletter, a publication known and read by us air conditioning engineers. ASHRAE stands for American Society of Heating, Refrigeration and Air Conditioning Engineers.

Once the basics above are covered, here are a few actions related to Heating, Ventilation and Air Conditioning systems you should take if you continue to allow the public into your facilities:

  • Increase outdoor air ventilation
  • Improve air filtration to the MERV-13 or the highest compatible with the filter rack
  • Seal edges of the filter to limit bypass
  • Keep systems running longer hours, if possible 24/7
  • Consider portable room air cleaners with HEPA filters
  • Consider UVGI (ultraviolet germicidal irradiation)

We all have a role to play to control the spread of this disease. HVAC is part of it, but even more significant are social distancing, hygiene and the influence we can have on personal behavior. Please help pass this blog on if you think it was useful.  We each can play a vital part to its ending, and knowledge is power to overcome this historic pandemic we are experiencing.

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