As the hotel quarantine debate unfolds, more and more travelers and hospitality employees are querying the safety of air conditioning and ventilation systems.

Meanwhile, ‘Living with Covid’ has become the new mantra as Australians are encouraged to get out and explore their own country .. and they are increasingly choosing Noosa as their preferred holiday destination for wellness breaks, extended family gatherings and eco-friendly tourism.

Noosa has also become a favourite sea-change destination for those who have discovered the benefits of working from home and living in a safe and healthy environment.

At the same time, a lot of media attention is currently being given to ‘Covid’ issues related to quarantine hotels elsewhere in the country. This primarily concerns the big chain hotels, which have now gone into “reputation management” mode, but it also impacts on the perceived safety of hotels, resorts and apartment complexes in general.

While new protocols are being implemented and all due care is now taken by staff and officials in the quarantine hotels, an alarming number of “cross infection” cases from guest to staff; staff to staff; and guest to guest continues.

This is not only an issue of managing a brand image for hotels and resorts, but also an OH&S issue regarding a duty of care to employees of providing a safe workplace environment.

It is the hotels’ ventilation systems which are now in the spotlight as a possible cause of the hotel quarantine system break down.

HVAC drafting for residential aged care facility - air conditioning and ventilation layout
sample Noosa Drafting Services air conditioning layout for apartment complex

Briefly, the ventilation system is about air movement within the hotel or apartment block. Transmission of the virus is basically carried through airborne particles. If the air doesn’t move, the airborne Covid particles don’t move. (It is much less about touching infected surfaces than was previously thought)

On a typical hotel floor there is a small amount of air supplied to the lift lobby or corridors to keep the air fresh (through positive pressure).

Each hotel room has a toilet exhaust system to extract air (negative pressure) i.e. when a hotel room door is opened, air will migrate from the corridor into the room, minimising the chance of covid particles leaving the room.

Sounds good…but there are some problems here:

  • Some toilet exhaust systems only run when the room is in use (when the light is turned on).
  • Some quarantine hotels have balconies and / or openable windows. If these are open and there is any reasonable prevailing wind, when the entrance door is opened, a blast of potentially Covid-laden air will be forced through the entire corridor system.

Measures such as ensuring balconies / windows are closed when deliveries are made will obviously help, but ensuring toilet exhausts run continuously can be a challenge if the system wasn’t originally designed to handle the extra air or the fans are not rated to run 24/7.

Upgrading or retrofitting effective exhaust systems would appear to be an answer, alongside making sure air conditioning systems are well-maintained.

New systems such as Plasma air purifiers (using charged ions to neutralize the virus) and make particles easier to filter out can also be used.

Some quarantine hotels have now also fitted medical-grade HEPA filters (High Efficiency Particulate Absorption) into rooms containing Covid-positive guests. Taking it a step further, some states are looking into building new purpose-built facilities to take over from the quarantine hotel system as it becomes evident that the problem requires a more effective long-term solution.

While being one of the best ways to help contain the virus within a room, to work properly, the HEPA filter must be retrofitted into an existing air conditioning system and sealed 100% airtight to do its job. The typical air conditioner install in a hotel room is incredibly tight and sealing 100% would be a very big ask let alone repeating the process every time a filter needs to be changed. These air conditioning units are typically not designed to handle the increased resistance of these filters for a prolonged time.

Noosa Drafting Services have had extensive medical drafting experience in the design of such air conditioning and ventillation systems. (hospitals, nuclear medicine facilities ..)

Wollongong Hospital Nuclear Medicine project - air conditioning and ventilation drafting
Wollongong Hospital project – nuclear medicine unit . Image credit: Daily Telegraph

Increasing the amount of fresh air into the corridors could be a viable option as the fresh air systems in many large hotel buildings are also designed to double up as smoke exhaust systems in the event of fire. These systems are oversized to handle larger air volumes during smoke extraction so in ‘fresh air’ mode the capacity can be increased to handle a much greater amount of air into the corridors i.e. (greater positive pressure).

Like most people, when I check into a hotel room I feel ‘safe’ and isolated from the outside world. But now, the thought of the Covid virus entering your room from somewhere on the same floor may be a bit disconcerting. This scenario of ‘positive’ pressure within the rooms has recently caused the closure of several quarantine hotels in Perth.

As a near future scenario, normal (non-quarantine) hotels and apartment complexes will need their air conditioning plans checked to certify there is constant negative pressure in all rooms, this hotel could then advertise as being, say ‘Covid Compliant’.

When guests see this sign both online and at the front desk, they will be far more likely to book that hotel. Staff will also feel safer and more confident working in and promoting the hotel.

Ahead of the game, Noosa Drafting Services can provide this service now!

For the month of May, Noosa Drafting Services is offering local hotels, resorts and apartment complexes confidential on-site Covid-safe ventilation and air conditioning assessments at the 50% off promotional rate of just $150 + gst*.

For further information or to book in your consultation for May with this special offer, email [email protected] 

*Conditions apply – please enquire. Valid only for properties within a 20km zone of Noosa.