Montreal researchers develop web-based tool to monitor COVID-19 risk in buildings

Researchers at Concordia University in Montreal have developed a web tool to help assess a building's risk level for COVID-19 transmission and offer possible solutions.

That project is now being expanded to other cities across North America as the population learns to live with the novel coronavirus.

Associate professor Leon Wang developed the web-based tool called CityRPI with two Ph.D students to assess the risk of COVID-19 infection through airborne transmission.

"There’s general rules for ventilation, but opening a window, will that be enough?" said Wang.

Using real-time data, the program takes into account the prevalence of COVID-19 in a city and then shows the baseline risk for each building.

The user, such as a building manager, can further customize the data.

"The footage area, how many people are in your building, if you know the details about your ventilation conditions and frequent the air exchange in your building, you can also input those data too," said Wang.

The program also considers whether people will have to wear a mask and then offers customized solutions to help curb indoor transmission, such as reducing occupancy on a given day.

Dr. Donald Vinh points out that paying attention to indoor air quality is especially useful in Canada, where winter means more people will stay inside for longer putting them at increased risk of infection.

"If we aren't in a pandemic, with increasing climate change, indoor air remains an issue," said Vinh.

The tool can be applied to other environments where air quality has come into question during the pandemic like schools, long-term care homes and other places where large groups gather.

"Everything we developed can be used for future pandemics," said research associate Ali Katal. "I hope that we don’t have any future pandemics, but if something happens like influenza, it can be extended."

Vinh would like to see governments do more to encourage or even mandate building owners to upgrade ventilation systems.

"This is a Canadian tool," said Vinh. "There's something to be proud of. It seems very high-tech to me. It seems intelligent. It makes sense, but what we need to do is use common sense and intelligence and science in all aspects, including public health, so we can do, ultimately, what's' best for our community." 

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