Is It Safe to Use My Suite or Club Seat?

Explore several strategies to mitigate the spread of viral airborne transmission in suites and clubs.

The concern over the spread of COVID-19 has many sports fans feeling unsure about returning to their suite or club space. While a small percentage will return under almost any circumstance, a greater cross-section will be more cautious, perhaps going once to determine how safe it “feels” and whether or not to return. If this first experience doesn’t alleviate that unease, they may not come back, which would be catastrophic to a team’s bottom line to lose that premium revenue.

What Is the Science Telling Us?

As scientists’ and medical professionals’ understanding of SARS-CoV-2 (COVID-19) transmission evolves, a focus on airborne transmission has emerged. Previously, the Centers for Disease Control (CDC) had determined COVID-19 was transmitted through two principal means:

  • Respiratory droplets produced by coughing, sneezing, or speaking which could infect another person within the dispersion zone.
  • Surface transmission where the infected droplet is deposited on a surface and transferred to another individual’s eyes, nose, or mouth through touch.

We now understand these respiratory droplets can be smaller, aerosolized particles that can spread further and remain in the air for longer periods of time.

The American Society of Heating, Refrigerating, and Air-Conditioning Engineers has published a position paper focusing on strategies to mitigate COVID-19 transmission. This document, in addition to other research conducted by the CDC, can be summarized into five primary strategies:

  1. Ventilation
  2. Disinfection
  3. Filtration
  4. Airflow
  5. Humidification

HVAC systems serving suites and clubs are typically quite different. Suites are usually served by a decentralized system, whereas club spaces are often served by robust centralized systems.

Given the small size of suites, it is challenging to maintain safe social distances. Not unlike a hotel room, it is assumed the occupants in a suite have already “quarantined” together, and the primary concern would be mitigating external airborne transmission.

For large open club spaces, where the occupancy can range from 100 to 2,000 or more, the primary concern would be mitigating internal transmission.

Risk assessments conducted by stadium operators should consider internal versus external transmission risks and set goals for managing them.

Transmission Mitigation Strategies in Suites and Club Spaces

An HVAC engineer can assist in analyzing strategies to determine which would be most effective to meet the facility’s risk assessment. Some strategies are relatively easy to incorporate, like increasing filtration levels to a Minimum Efficiency Reporting Value (MERV) of 13 or adjusting airflow patterns to eliminate high-velocity air streams that could propel infectious particles further. Other strategies require more design consideration, including adding humidification or increasing ventilation rates to dilute indoor viral load.

Of the five CDC strategies, it is believed that ventilation is the most important aspect to focus on for interior spaces and is the most applicable for suite and club spaces in a sports venue.

First, check the HVAC systems to ensure they are operating with the appropriate amount of ventilation air. The International Mechanical Code provides requirements for how much ventilation air, or “outside” air, needs to be introduced to ensure a healthy indoor environment.

Second, confirm all occupied spaces are receiving ventilation through the building’s HVAC system. Ensure occupants cannot control or block their air device, otherwise, the space may be under-ventilated, potentially increasing the concentration of the virus.

Third, evaluate if the ventilation rate can be increased without negatively impacting the interior environment. If ventilation rates cannot be increased during occupancy due to temperature restrictions or capacity constraints, then other measures can be taken, such as running the systems at 100% outdoor air for a period during unoccupied hours to purge the space.

If the HVAC systems are currently programmed to shut off during unoccupied modes, consider extending the run hours to continue the ventilation beyond normal occupancy. Also, if there are automatic controls in place to reduce ventilation rates based on occupancy, consider temporarily disabling them.

If increased ventilation rates are not deemed feasible, then use of decontamination technologies can also be explored. Ultraviolet light in the 254-nm wavelength range (UVC) is typically the most effective at neutralizing viruses and bacteria, although the dosage is an important factor to consider.

It is essential to remember that improvements to the HVAC system are no substitute for good hand hygiene, social distancing, and use of personal protective equipment.

Is It Safe to Return to My Suite or Club Space?

There are many strategies that can be employed to mitigate the spread of viral airborne transmission. Whatever strategies are used, it is equally important that your customer be educated or made aware of the measures that have been taken to mitigate airborne transmission for their peace of mind.

Call a Design Professional

There are many companies rushing to market with products that may help mitigate the spread of airborne COVID-19 transmission, but not all may be effective or work in a venue. EwingCole has licensed professionals in both architecture and engineering to help venue operators navigate the many variables to consider.

This venue solution was published in partnership with EwingCole.