Patterns of SARS-CoV-2 aerosol spread in typical classrooms
Rencken, G.K.; Rutherford, E.K.; Ghanta, N.; Kongoletos, J.; Glicksman, L.
Building and Environment 204: 108167
ISSN/ISBN: 0360-1323 PMID: 34305270 DOI: 10.1016/j.buildenv.2021.108167
Although current industry guidelines to control the spread of aerosols such as SARS-CoV-2 (COVID-19) have adopted a six-foot (~1.8 m) spacing between individuals indoors, recent evidence suggests that longer range spread is also responsible for infections in public spaces. The vehicle for long-range spread is smaller (<5 μm) droplets or particles, termed bio-aerosols, or aerosols for short, which have a large surface area to volume ratio such that aerodynamic drag is much larger than gravity forces. The aerosols remain suspended in air for extended time periods, and they essentially move with air currents. Prediction of the danger to occupants in a closed room when exposed to an infected individual requires knowledge of the period of exposure and the concentration level of aerosols in the breathing zone of an occupant. To obtain an estimate of the concentration level, a common assumption is well-mixed conditions within an interior space. This is obtained from a mass balance between the level of aerosol produced by an infected individual along with the airflow rate into and out of the entire space. In this work, we use computational fluid dynamics, compared with experimental results in several cases, to explore the aerosol concentration distribution in a typical classroom for several common conditions and compare these results to the well-mixed assumption. We use a tracer gas to approximately simulate the flow and dispersion of the aerosol-air mixture. The two ventilation systems examined, ceiling diffusers and open windows, yield average concentrations at occupant breathing level 50 % greater than the well mixed case, and some scenarios yield concentrations that are 150 % greater than the well mixed concentration at specific breathing-level locations. Of particular concern are two conditions: horizontal air flow from an open window in line with a row of seating and, second, an infected individual seated near a sealed cold window. For the former, conditions are improved if a baffle is placed inside the open window to direct the air toward the floor, creating a condition similar to displacement ventilation. In the latter, the cold air flowing down along the cold window recirculates aerosols back into the breathing zone. Adding window covers or a portable heater below the window surface will moderate this condition.