Scientists advise office CO2 monitoring to help manage COVID-19 risk

As more UK workers and students return to offices and schools, a new paper published in the Indoor and Built Environment journal details a new model that has been developed to predict the risk of airborne COVID-19 infection in such environments.

The model – developed by researchers at Imperial College London, the University of Cambridge and University of Leeds, and jointly funded by the PROTECT COVID-19 National Core Study and UK Research and Innovation – uses monitored CO2 and occupancy data to predict how many workers are likely to be infected by an asymptomatic but infectious colleague.

High indoor CO2 levels are related to lower ventilation rates and high occupancy, so monitoring them can provide an important red flag to building managers to identify areas of inadequate ventilation. This can help assess the risk of airborne transmission of the COVID-19 virus. Achievable interventions can then be made, for instance, to improve ventilation or change worker attendance patterns to reduce occupancy.

While applications of the infection model so far have demonstrated that most workers in well ventilated open plan offices are unlikely to infect each other via airborne particles, the risk becomes greater if the space is poorly ventilated or if the workers are involved in activities which require more speaking. For instance, the model predicts each infected person could infect two to four others in an adequately ventilated but noisy call centre. Risks are also likely to increase if the infected individual is a ‘super spreader’.

As more workers and students return to offices and schools, the PROTECT COVID-19 National Core Study has published a new paper in the Indoor and Built Environment journal detailing a new model that has been developed to predict the risk of airborne COVID-19 infection in such environments.

The model uses monitored CO2 and occupancy data to predict how many workers are likely to be infected by an asymptomatic but infectious colleague.

Find out more about the model and findings from the research in PROTECT's press release.

Professor Andrew Curran, HSE’s Chief Scientific Adviser and lead for the PROTECT study:

'This important research demonstrates that, while the airborne transmission route can be a significant contributor to COVID-19 infection risk in places such as offices and schools, there are achievable steps that can be taken to reduce this risk and help facilitate a safe return.

Ensuring adequate ventilation is a key element, and the appropriate use of tools such as CO2 monitoring can give building managers a much better understanding of their own ventilation systems and how they are performing for each activity undertaken in the space.'

Read the paper:

Predictive and retrospective modelling of airborne infection risk using monitored carbon dioxide

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