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Airborne Infection Reduction through Building Operation and Design for SARS-CoV-2 (AIRBODS) is a UKRI-funded research programme led by Prof Malcolm Cook at Loughborough University in partnership with University College London, the University of Nottingham, the University of Cambridge, the University of Sheffield, London South Bank University and Wirth Research.

The need to better understand airborne transmission of viruses such as SARS-CoV-2 within the built environment is now undeniable. It is well recognized that indoor locations, particularly when poorly ventilated, can increase the risk of infection transmission.  Over the 18-month programme, leading UK scientists and engineers including many of the authors of the UK’s COVID-19 ventilation guidance will be using experimentation, simulation, analysis and fieldwork to explore the physical and biological fate and transport of aerosols carrying virus particles under various scenarios.  The AIRBODS team will develop guidance on how to design and operate buildings to minimize the risk of airborne transmission acknowledging any implications on energy use and thermal comfort (especially in winter) along with indoor air quality and occupancy levels as a combined consideration. With CIBSE as a project partner their work will also provide guidance on the application of current simulation and analysis tools to more accurately estimate the benefits of possible mitigation measures that could be used to reduce airborne transmission.

Key questions being considered include: what do we mean by ‘poor’ and ‘sufficient’ ventilation?  How does ventilation and air movement affect transmission?  What’s an acceptable balance between conflicting drivers such as air change rate and energy consumption? To what extent can we use indoor air properties such as CO2, air temperature and relative humidity as proxies for airborne transmission risk?

The impact of the Covid pandemic on the lives and livelihoods of everyone around the world has been substantial.  There will be many repercussions in the coming years as part of the endeavour to design and operate safer environments within which we live and work.  Some guidance has already been given on the opening up of shared indoor spaces, essential for economic recovery and mental wellbeing, as part of an emerging evidence base.  The development of validated biophysics models within this project with a built environment context, together with better wellbeing standards supporting better indoor air quality and productivity, can only be further supported by an increased industry and public focus on ventilation and understanding of airborne transmission risk.

As a result, the impact of this work will be highly dependent upon how its messages are communicated beyond the built environment community to the medical community, the wider public and policy makers.  Supporting the global research initiative borne out of this pandemic and UK funded research such as the new CO-TRACE programme focusing on the education sector, the AIRBODS team are poised to make a lasting impact on the understanding and mitigation of indoor virus transmission risk.