More than half of the Covid-19 outbreaks in workplaces in Ireland occurred in just 150 buildings, a Dáil committee will hear on Wednesday.
The Oireachtas Committee on Health will hear that some 3,492 of the 6,559 workplace cases, or 53%, of the virus were concentrated in less than 200 meat, fish, or poultry factories or other food plants.
Similarly, more than 50% of Covid deaths in Ireland were infected in just 0.03% of the country’s more than 2 million buildings, the committee will hear.
Orla Hegarty, assistant professor at the UCD school of architecture, is expected to tell the committee that a focus on ventilation in indoor spaces is key to managing cases of the virus, with buildings with poor ventilation having provided a disproportionate number of cases to date.
“We now understand that risk of transmission is predominantly indoors and very specific to certain buildings and indoor air conditions,” Ms Hegarty will say.
“These conditions are preventable, and this knowledge is key to stopping infections.
She is expected to say that managing airborne disease is “a tractable problem”, and one which society had previously mastered only for it to fall by the wayside via modern construction methods.
“Indoor spread is measurable and controllable. Ireland regulated overcrowding in bedrooms to prevent TB,” Ms Hegarty will say.
“Covid-19 has particular characteristics. It is highly over-dispersed - spread is not a factor of average contacts. Suppressing the pandemic, therefore, is less about rules for people and more about rules for places.
“Infection risk indoors can be reduced by 50% with increased airflow, and by almost 90% with airflow, filtration and wearing masks."
Ms Hegarty will also say this knowledge represents a “policy opportunity”, with vaccines alone not sufficient to provide “enough headroom for reopening”.
That opportunity is primarily grounded in a shift in public health policy, leading to the analysis of patterns of spread and the investigation of buildings.