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OCAD U air quality monitoring and management update

A photo of a blue sky with a cumulus cloud

OCAD University recognizes that air quality and ventilation play a key role in reducing the risk of COVID-19 transmission. 

Since the start of the pandemic, OCAD U applied new measures in all its buildings, such as increasing minimum air intake on Heating, Ventilation, Air-Conditioning (HVAC) units and upgrading to MER 13 filtration (typically used in hospitals for general surgery and filter bacteria and virus carriers). 

OCAD University has spent the last several months engaging environmental health and safety consultants on investigating and measuring the air changes per hour (ACH) of its systems across the campus to understand which areas were under performing. Local air filtration units have been installed in areas that were not meeting the targeted air changes per hour, and the University continues to engage in these investigation and measurement efforts on an ongoing basis. 

Standards and guidance
OCAD University is committed to following the air quality recommendations established by leading HVAC professional standards bodies and public health organizations, including the American Industrial Hygiene Association (AIHA), the Canadian Centre for Occupational Health and Safety (CCOHS), and the American Society of Heating, Refrigerating and Air-Conditioning Engineers (ASHRAE) and the Harvard Chan School of Public Health. 

Air changes per hour
Because OCAD University’s shops and studios involve the creation of dust and fumes, many of these spaces experience significantly higher air exchange rates, in some cases as high as 26 ACH, which is aligned with standards for sensitive healthcare settings such as surgical suites. 

OCAD University is working to achieve the target of 4 to 6 air changes per hour for its public, programmed, and academic spaces. This target, identified by the Harvard Chan School of Public Health, is consistent with hospital levels of airborne infection control strategies. 

For all other spaces on campus, OCAD University is targeting to achieve the recommended ASHRAE standard of 3 to 4 ACH. 

Measured spaces
OCAD U has many HVAC systems across its campus, some of which are managed by our building partners Village by the Grange and Hullmark. Working with our building partners, we reviewed system designs and identified spaces in which to conduct testing that:

  • Were indicative of overall function for the system being reviewed;
  • Represented weaker links in the relevant system or were identified as sensitive spaces; 
  • Prioritized public, programmed and academic spaces. 

Areas yet to be tested
OCAD University has yet to test 205 Richmond St. West, due to elevator construction and HVAC repairs in this building. Testing is pending for 199 Richmond Street West (Onsite Gallery) and 130 Queen's Quay East (Waterfront).

Air changes per hour measurement and filter deployment report (PDF)
An air changes per hour measurement and filter report (PDF) has been generated for the OCAD University community detailing the measurements conducted to date, and remedial actions taken to address areas that were not meeting their targets. 

Additional air quality monitoring
OCAD University’s Environmental Health & Safety team conducts CO2 monitoring in active spaces on campus. Typically, this practice is used to assess occupancy and ventilation requirements for the purposes of improving energy efficiency, but this tool can also be used to ensure there is adequate ventilation occurring in occupied spaces. Indoor COlevels should not be interpreted as a proxy for COVID-19 risk; COVID-19 transmission depends on multiple factors, of which ventilation is only one. To date, all results of OCAD U’s COmonitoring activities are demonstrating ventilation well within adequate range. 

Frequently Asked Questions

Why weren’t all spaces/rooms measured? 

To obtain information in preparation for the safe return to campus this fall, OCAD U prioritized public, programmed and academic spaces for measurement. In collaboration with building partners and using the relevant system design specifications, spaces to be tested were identified as either indicative of overall system performance, because they may be a weaker area of the system, or because the space was otherwise considered sensitive.  

Can my space/office be measured?
OCAD University is prioritizing public, programmed and academic spaces for monitoring and measuring. Individual offices, or spaces that typically only have a few users at a time are considered a lower risk environment. If you have questions about your space, get in touch with EHS@ocadu.ca

Are high COconcentrations an indication of a high risk of COVID-19 transmission? 
There are multiple factors that increase the risk of transmission of COVID-19, so COlevels should not be considered alone as an indicator. In general, high/increasing CO2 concentrations in a space could be an indicator of a lack of acceptable ventilation, and additional actions can be taken to improve the air quality, such as adding extra air filtration to the space.  

OCAD University has implemented layers of health measures to reduce the risk of COVID-19 transmission, including requiring the community to provide Proof of Vaccination or have an approved exemption and participating in the rapid antigen screening program. OCAD U also requires all community members to be masked indoors and continue to practice physical distancing. OCAD U’s Fall course schedule has also reduced overall numbers of people on campus, to reduce risk of infection. As of this writing, since OCAD University opened on September 7, the University has received three reports of individuals who have tested positive and had been on campus. None of these cases resulted in person-to-person transmission while on the campus. 

Should I be concerned about ventilation in the stairwells, washrooms or elevators? 
Stairwells, washrooms and elevators are common use spaces, and all users are expected to wear a non-medical mask or face covering as outlined in the OCAD U Health Guidance of Preventing spread of COVID-19. Brief interactions such as passing someone on the stairwell or being in the same room such as a washroom or elevator for a few minutes, while masked, does not confer a material risk in the transmission of COVID-19. In addition, as outlined in the How OCAD U is minimizing the risk of infection, high touch surfaces such as railings and door handles are disinfected regularly.