As pandemic restrictions gradually wind down efforts are being made to understand and mitigate against the airborne transmission of COVID-19 in buildings such as events venues.

Loughborough University is leading AIRBODS (Airborne Infection Reduction through Building Operation and Design for SARS-CoV-2), a government-funded study that will explore how ventilation and other factors affect the risk of transmission at large public gatherings.

Data collected from a nightclub event in Liverpool and the Snooker World Championship in Sheffield is already being analysed and trials are taking place at ‘test’ venues including the O2 arena and Wembley Stadium in London.

“Getting our lives back to some sense of normal following the pandemic is a huge challenge and doing it in a safe and measured way even more so,” said research leader Malcolm Cook, Professor of Building Performance Analysis at Loughborough’s School of Architecture, Building and Civil Engineering. “The large-scale events industry has been shut down for over a year. The work we are doing will help get these types of events and venues back up and running in a safe way, providing scientifically proven information and advice on ventilation and building management, to reduce the risk of airborne transmission of Covid-19, and other viruses, as much as possible.”

The 18-month AIRBODS project is being carried out in partnership with University College London, London South Bank University, and the Universities of Cambridge, Nottingham and Sheffield. It aims to quantify the risk of this transmission through a combination of experimental work, measurement of environmental factors in buildings, and computer modelling.

Combining data on ventilation, numbers of people present, and microbiological analysis of surfaces and air in the venues, the team will develop a Relative Exposure Index based on a benchmark case. This will help building managers and authorities assess the risk of certain events, as well as mitigate against risk by adapting building design and ventilation measures.

According to Prof Cook, the outcomes of the study will be applicable to all non-domestic settings, including healthcare, education and retail.

“Our approach to the research will also mean the knowledge and tools we generate will be relevant for the mitigation of a wide range of airborne hazards across the spectrum of indoor environments for many years to come,” he said in a statement. “The data we have already been able to collect from the events in Liverpool and Sheffield is proving very interesting and we look forward to learning as much as we can from it.”

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