When malls are allowed to reopen as soon they will be it's not just the novel coronavirus shoppers will have to guard against, but an equally insidious threat, moulds.
Moulds are fungi that grow in damp and humid spaces like AC ducts in malls. The long lockdown would have been ideal for growth of moulds in unseen places, especially AC ducts. When the cooling systems are turned on again, the spores or these moulds will fly free through the air, posing serious health hazards to visitors.
According to the US Centres for Disease Control and Prevention, “Moulds can cause nasal stuffiness, throat irritation, coughing or wheezing, eye irritation, or, in some cases, skin irritation. People with mould allergies may have more severe reactions. Immune-compromised people and those with chronic lung illnesses such as obstructive lung disease may get serious infections if exposed to mould.”
Centralised air-conditioning is the chief culprit. It can contribute to the spread of the Coronavirus too.
“In centralised air conditioners, there is only one common vent and duct; so if somebody has an infection, it will spread to everyone inside that particular space. That’s the reason why not many private hospitals admit Covid-19 patients. Isolation wards are therefore set up in separate buildings which don’t have centralised AC,” explains internal medicine specialist Dr Manjeetha Nath Das of Columbia Asia Hospital.
The doctor feels window ACs are better in this regard than centralised ACs. She recommends that offices which have centralised cooling systems keep doors and windows open so that employees can get fresh air,” she points out.
Dr Srivatsa Lokeshwaran, consultant, Interventional Pulmonology, Aster CMI Hospital, agrees that air conditioning is a major concern. He stresses that ACs must be maintained as per the guidelines given by the Indian Society of Heating, Refrigerating and Air conditioning Engineers.
“A temperature between 24 to 30 degrees, and relative humidity of 40 to 70 per cent should be maintained. Also, air ducts must be subjected to more stringent inspection and cleaning by maintenance engineers. Recirculation of air must be avoided,” he advises.
Saying that malls should restrict the number of visitors and set up provisions to ensure that adequate social distancing is maintained, he also stresses the importance of regular and frequent sanitisation of floors and escalator buttons. “Needless to say, contactless thermometers must be the norm at every entrance”, he cautions.
K. Sreedhar Reddy, managing director, Apurupa Infrastructures Pvt. Ltd., and treasurer Telangana Real Estate Developers Association (TREDA), emphasises the importance of proper air filtration in malls. He feels ACs should be put through a trial run before the opening of commercials spaces to ensure the safety of visitors. “We have to do air quality tests when we do the test runs. If it’s an existing facility, it is better to get the whole system serviced and set the humidity and temperature controls,” he says.
Thermal guns, sanitisers, mask and gloves will be part of the new order of the day at malls.