With the onset of COVID-19 variants—the current one is the omicron subvariant BA.5—should there be a renewed emphasis on the quality of air indoors?

Yes, said Antoine Flahult, Director of the Institute of Global Health at the University of Geneva.

“In the hopes of stemming the tide of the pandemic and reducing mortality, we need to reduce the level of contamination, which the vaccine cannot do alone,” he said in a recent report from Agence France-Press. “We need a new phase—improving the quality of indoor air.”

That comes as no surprise to scientists and experts  at Delos, a leading wellness brand, which launched the Delos Wellness Certificate for Meetings & Events  designed to teach meeting professionals how to incorporate best practices for creating healthy, productive meeting experiences.

Delos is on a mission to enhance health and well-being in space where people live, work, learn and play, tapping into experts across building and health sciences. That also encompasses meetings and events.

Zachary C. Pope, a research scientist in physiology and behavioral science in the Well Living Lab, founded as a collaboration between Delos and the Mayo Clinic, echoed Antoine’s statements, stating that improving indoor air quality through enhanced ventilation and filtration is critical now, during COVID-19, and in the future, as risk for other respiratory diseases such as influenza will continue to be present, with COVID-19 likely still circulating at lower levels at that time, too.

“Nonetheless, enhanced ventilation and filtration strategies are particularly important now given the presence of new COVID-19 variants,” Pope said. “Our bodies’ immune systems have a lesser ability to fight off infections from these new variants given the molecular-level differences these variants have relative to early versions of the COVID-19 virus.

“Implementing the strategies outlined above can assist with lowering infection risk and allowing members of the same or different organizations to meet safely in-person to push forward their joint projects.”

The importance of clean air has also gained a foothold at hotels and resorts that are home to the meeting and event industry. Delos has integrated its Stay Well Meetings program at 11 MGM properties in Las Vegas, which includes air purification systems installed throughout the spaces. This significantly improves the air quality without noise disruption.

“Air quality was, candidly, an afterthought, and we now are protecting environments for airborne pathogens like never before,” said Michael Dominguez, President and CEO of ALHI. “In addition, there remains a silver lining in that our focus around surfaces and UV sterilization should make traditional flu seasons a little less impactful.”

Dominguez was integral to working with Delos to launch the Stay Well Meetings program when he was at MGM prior to joining ALHI.
“I’ve said often that when we think about the amount of payroll being spent when we are gathering teams in a face-to-face engagement it is critical for us to create physical environments that are cost conducive to learning, mental acuity and engagement,” he said. “I have learned that this starts with the human condition.”

The Well Living Lab has conducted groundbreaking research across several studies on the implications of healthy air, with observations highly applicable for the meeting and event industry. For example, in their Classroom Air Purification Study, they observed portable air purification units to be an effective and scalable supplement to the room’s ventilation and filtration system and that the use of these units significantly reduces the number of particles in a room’s air and the speed that particles accumulate to different surfaces within a room. Their Classroom Air Purification Study also noted that greater clean air delivery to the entire space within a room can be achieved by placing multiple portable air purification units at approximately equal distances throughout an entire space.

Notably, observations from the Classroom Air Purification Study and other research the Well Living Lab has conducted, indicates that, since there are a number of factors that will impact the effect of portable air purification in a meeting room, such as the distance between individuals and the spacing and location of the air purification units, it is important to also consider the implementation of any best practice recommendations from the CDC and other authorities, including mask wearing, social distancing, and cleaning protocols. Using more highly-rated MERV filters within the building’s ventilation and filtration system is also highly advised after consultation with an industrial hygienist or HVAC expert, as portable air purification unit use does not negate the need to improve these systems, when possible, according to the Well Living Lab’s research.

“It is critical for meeting organizers and venues to also understand that improving indoor air quality has benefits not only for the reduction of virus transmission when individuals meet within the same space, but can also benefit individuals at the physiological and psychological levels; thus improving health and well-being in the broadest sense,” said Pope. “When mapped onto a meeting space, this means greater ability to safely and productively share ideas with one another and less likelihood of absenteeism due to illness.”

Much of what Delos has learned has been incorporated into the Delos Wellness Certificate for Meetings and Events.

Delos reported that as soon as the Stay Well Meetings installation was complete at Luxor Hotel and Casino in Las Vegas, a large software company that conducted an event praised how well the program was received by attendees.

“The fact that Delos was grounded in the science around wellness is what first drew me to their program,” Dominguez noted. “Being the data nerd that I am, I quickly went down the preverbal ‘rabbit hole’ learning about light, air and our physical environments’ impact on the human condition.”

Lori Carbone, CMP, Associate Director of Sales at Aria Resort and Casino, said the property’s 12 Copper Leaf meeting rooms and pre-function space has incorporated the Stay Well Meetings program.

“Planners have wellness in mind when building their events and having this as an amenity puts us in a good position to earn their business,” she said. “(Stay Well) offers a comprehensive wellness experience with premier meeting spaces, inclusive of state-of-the-art air purification and other sciences-based features designed to enhance your group's or attendees' meeting experience.”

One of the Stay Well meetings feature is the cleaning protocol which uses a state-of-the-art UVC wand cleaning tool, which neutralizes bacteria, viruses and other microbes. “I think our customers appreciate the extra steps during the post COVID world,” Carbone added.

The aforementioned Classroom Air Purification Study conducted by the Well Living Lab suggested that portable air purification units could mitigate the spread of airborne particles the size of those that carry respiratory viruses such as COVID-19 in a classroom, with results able to be applied to similarly sized spaces.

Based on the results of the Classroom Air Purification Study, Pope said meeting organizers should consider, for example, adding multiple portable air purification units in larger breakout rooms at equal distances throughout the space for the greatest clean air ‘coverage’ of the meeting space.

“In a smaller breakout room, consider placing the single portable air purification unit as close as reasonably possible to where individuals are meeting without interrupting the ability to communicate,” Pope said. Consistent with earlier statements, Pope also added that it is important to ensure occupancy levels in breakout rooms allow for approximate six-foot spacing to remain between individuals and suggested mask wearing when the vaccination status of meeting attendees is unknown. 

For ballrooms and larger meeting spaces, Pope noted that working with an industrial hygienist or HVAC expert to place more highly rated MERV filters into the building’s ventilation and filtration system is ideal, too.

As a follow up to prior studies, including the Classroom Air Purification Study, the Well Living Lab is currently conducting a study of air quality in assisted living facilities, examining how portable air purification units can help limit the way small particles accumulate in the air and on surfaces within and between rooms in the facility. Reported findings are expected later this year.

“In addition to the study on portable air purification in an assisted living study, we are about to launch a study within an independent senior living facility examining how the impact of improving lighting within residents’ apartments can enhance resident brain and cognitive health,” Pope said, adding that The Well Living Lab is also considering a future follow-up study that investigates the combined impact of improving lighting and indoor air quality, the latter via portable air purification unit use, on older adults’ brain and cognitive health.

As dementia prevalence is projected to affect 155 million people by 2050, environmental strategies such as lighting that is properly tuned for humans’ natural daily physiological rhythms and portable air purification units that improve indoor air quality are critical to study as novel ways to help slow cognitive decline.