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Safe Returns to Sports: Air Quality plays a key factor in healthy facilities for athletes and fans

Updated: Feb 18, 2022

Sometimes in a news cycle that constantly reminds us of the name-brand sports teams and leagues, we lose sight of the thousands of college athletes and hundreds of thousands of amateur athletes who are also anxiously waiting for their next step towards a return.

In major sports leagues, teams have the benefit of extensive budgets for preventative equipment, plus entire units of their massive operations devoted to ensuring the well-being of players, coaches, and other team personnel.

Facilities around the world are faced with the challenge of bringing athletes back into the building with minimal health risks, especially in the midst of the COVID-19 pandemic. With states and countries rolling back restrictions on non-essential businesses, including the reopening of many gyms and training centers, owners and operators are combating their first challenges in keeping athletes safe.

While standard cleaning practices are essential for training and sports facilities, assuring the strength of a building’s systems brings owners a little more peace of mind.

Already a strong consideration at college football practice facilities that have to consider the air that moves through roughly 4.5 million cubic feet of open space, the challenge of circulation is vast.

One simple way owners can improve ventilation is simply opening doors and windows in their space when possible, allowing for fresh air to constantly circulate in and out.

“The more intense the contact — in terms of spacing between individuals, duration of interaction, type of interaction and degree of ventilation — the higher the likelihood of infection,” Sohil R. Sud, an associate professor of pediatrics at the University of California at San Francisco said to The Washington Post.

Based on a study conducted by researchers focused on Teachers’ college in China, there are increasing numbers of systems available that easily track, monitor, and facilitate the air quality within a given space. In particular, the study focused on gymnasiums and auditoriums at that high school facility.

The system pays particularly close attention to the environmental factors of a given area, allowing operators to track the quality of the air as different individuals in various quantities cycle in and out of a given space. Then, the system tracks how likely it is that a disease can be spread, notes if there are large amounts of any dangerous particles in the air, and continually tracks a space so all users can know the environment they’re encountering.

As the United States gyms and facilities re-open, owners should also strongly consider bringing a few new, MERV-graded air filtration units into their facilities, especially in areas with such a high density of touchpoints and human traffic.

Units with a MERV grade of 12 or 13 are the strongest removers of contaminants, but grades 8 through 11 also have strong effects in the field.

Per the American Society of Heating, Refrigerating and Air-Conditioning Engineers (ASHRAE) Guidance for Building Operations During the COVID-19 Pandemic, it's recommended that all facilities' operators, "Improve central air filtration to the MERV-13 or the highest compatible with the filter rack, and seal edges of the filter to limit bypass."

Return dates will vary depending on state regulations, but there’s a growing number of teams and athletes re-entering the workout room.

As the United States continues to combat coronavirus for the foreseeable future, finding methods to protect athletes at all levels from harm while allowing them to continue in their development path is going to be a unique challenge.

However, contacting a mechanical engineer helps a facility better understand how they can control air quality in their space, thus adding a level of protection for athletes and owners alike.

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