Are you one of the millions of active adults, as developers and builders refer to the 50-plus segment, whose relocation plans have been impacted by coronavirus concerns and the Covid-19 pandemic? According to Senior Housing News, a trade magazine for the industry segment catering to older adults, “The sector — which was growing quickly prior the Covid-19 crisis — is already facing pressure.”
Independent adults who downsized into zero-maintenance, amenity-rich condo or rental communities are reconsidering whether living so close to their neighbors and sharing gyms and clubhouses is a great idea at the moment. “Even some providers have urged residents to stay with families while the pandemic is ongoing,” the publication notes.
Senior Move Options
Linnette Edwards, a founding partner with Abio Properties, a San Francisco East Bay real estate firm, works with numerous senior clients. “Seniors are deciding to retire sooner and sell so that they can move to less populated areas with less stress,” she notes. Accessory dwelling units (ADUs) are also becoming a popular option, she adds. “Some are now looking into building an ADU on their children’s lots. Others are looking to build an ADU to have a personal caregiver live on their property.”
Air Pollution and Covid Risks
Air pollution, an urban problem in many areas of the U.S., has been linked to increased Covid fatalities in recent studies: “A small increase in long-term exposure to [fine particulate matter] leads to a large increase in the COVID-19 death rate.” This is not just a risk to those running, relaxing or working outside. As the Environmental Protection Agency has noted on its own site, indoor PM levels have the potential to exceed outdoor levels. Could that be putting older lungs in danger?
“In North America, people tend to spend more than 90% of their time indoors, and this percentage likely increases with age as people become more homebound,” observes Diana Anderson, a clinical fellow in geriatrics at UC San Francisco, a medical doctor, and an architect. “Older adults may be especially susceptible to effects of low concentrations of pollutants due to a number of underlying chronic diseases,” she says.
Anderson notes that aged lungs tend to have less capacity, elasticity, and filtering power against pollutants than their younger counterparts. “Older adults have an increased occurrence of acute respiratory symptoms and reduced lung function. This emphasizes the importance of good indoor air quality [IAQ] for health.”
Access to fresh outdoor air is also highly desirable, she points out, as is the use of HEPA filtration to address indoor particulates. HEPA stands for high efficiency particle arrestance, largely considered to be the highest level of protection.
Airborne Infection Control at Home
What if you or one of your household members has been diagnosed with Covid-19? While it’s possible that hospital-grade solutions for isolating a contagious individual at home will become more widely available in the future, especially if this pandemic endures for an extended period and another – possibly an emerging Eurasian swine flu recently identified in a National Academy of Sciences article – follows quickly on its heels, we aren’t there quite yet.
There are options if you find yourself housing an infected relative or roommate, as members of professional engineering association ASHRAE’s Epidemic Task Force point out, or if you just want to ensure maximum IAQ for your household. “We would suggest a few things,” offers Traci Hanegan, task force member, principal mechanical engineer at Coffman Engineers and healthcare facilities technical expert.
“First, a recirculating fan-filter unit would provide some contamination control in a residential environment with MERV 13 or higher filtration.” (MERV 13 is just below HEPA grade.) “Second, providing window-mounted exhaust systems could help in protecting others outside the occupant’s room,” Hanegan adds.
“Keep in mind the difference between air filters, which capture particles (even particles that carry microscopic bacteria, virus and fungi), and air cleaners that capture volatile organic compounds (VOC). People suffering from many other types of afflictions could benefit from both. In addition, humidification can be beneficial to a patient and improve a person’s immune response.”
If you do need to create an isolation space in your current living situation, ASHRAE offers these tips.
Comfort and Quality Air Enhancements
“We are seeing greater awareness and interest from homeowners who want to improve their overall indoor air quality,” comments Victor Flynn, a senior product manager with Panasonic, one of the global manufacturers addressing indoor air quality issues in relation to cooling. The company introduced technology to the North American market in March that addresses pollen, mold, bacteria and viruses, using electrically-charged water particles in a ductless mini-split system for remodels or new construction. The technology hasn’t been tested yet with Covid-19, but has been proven effective against swine flu, bird flu and other contagions, the company reports.
Portable air purification units can also be helpful for those with IAQ issues who aren’t seeking to take on a large project. These can include HEPA filters for reduction of allergens, dust, odors and bacteria. “Air purifiers can be used to lower levels of airborne pollutants,” comments Krystal Pollitt, an assistant professor of environmental health sciences at the Yale School of Public Health.
“There are a wide range of units on the market with different air flows and filters,” Pollitt notes. “Each has a CADR (clean air delivery rating) which tests for the effectiveness at removing dust, tobacco smoke and pollen. The CADR rating for tobacco smoke is likely the most related to airborne SARS-CoV-2 virus [the novel coronavirus causing Covid-19],” she suggests.
“It is not too hard to make an isolation-ready design in new home construction, but there would be some additional construction costs depending on design,” comments Max Sherman, another ASHRAE Epidemic Task Force member and EPB Consulting Group principal. “Most American homes have a central forced air system of some kind. This makes it rather difficult to isolate specific rooms. For those with baseboard or mini-split heating/cooling, isolation is easier, but meeting ventilation requirements is not,” he points out.
Hospital-grade contamination control is more elaborate and costly than the air quality systems designed for residential living – though that could change in the future. “I know people are considering it,” Sherman shares. “In any case, none of that is likely to have any impact until this pandemic is well behind us.”