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How safe is your building? Facilities shares information on building systems and COVID-19 safety

Penn State Health Milton S. Hershey Medical Center’s Facilities Department has been working diligently for months to keep the medical center and College of Medicine campus open and to prepare for the continued return to campus by carefully evaluating all building mechanical and life safety systems to determine that they are 100% functional and ready for continued occupancy.

Facilities follows a lengthy checklist, meeting or exceeding all of the building systems requirements of the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention and undertaking intense corrective/preventive maintenance for every building on campus.

Using guidance from best sources

As part of its facilities evaluation and practices, Facilities also:

Protecting the health, safety and welfare of the Penn State and Penn State Health community is an essential element in keeping the campus open to patient care, in-person teaching, learning, research and engagement.

Multi-layered protection

A multi-layered approach is what Penn State Health and the University have instituted overall for return to campus, with the following requirements and guidance in place:

  • Wear face masks (masks limit emission of both large and small particles from an infectious person, which protects others)
  • Practice good hand hygiene
  • Social distance from others at least 6 feet
  • Participating in testing and contact tracing as appropriate

Knowing the concerns related to the potential for spread of the virus, Facilities and Environmental Health Services also follow a multi-layered approach to building and systems review, maintenance and upgrades.

Additional layers

  • Increased cleaning and disinfecting of buildings and high-touch surfaces
  • Hand-sanitizing stations at building entrances and in other common areas
  • Use of plexiglass shields where warranted in areas of close personal contact
  • Increased signage and reminders of requirements
  • Reduced occupancy limits for instructional spaces and common areas
  • Thorough building systems checks, with focus on ventilation and improvement of indoor air quality

Building checks – HVAC focus

The CDC and other sources indicate that COVID-19 is spread primarily through person-to-person contact and, while possible, it is not probable that it spreads through surfaces (fomites). In addition to the critical first-line measures already outlined (masking/social distancing) – which help mitigate large droplet and aerosol transmission of the virus – along with intense cleaning and disinfecting of facilities, Penn State Health and the University are undertaking more rigorous steps to further mitigate possible risk inside buildings.

Changes to building operations – including heating, ventilating and air-conditioning (HVAC) systems – can reduce airborne exposures, which are only a serious problem when there is a system that re-uses air, according to the American Society of Heating, Refrigeration and Air Conditioning Engineers. Facilities has modified, where appropriate, how buildings operate to provide more ventilation, air flow and outdoor air being brought into buildings.

What is being done?

  • meeting or exceeding all building systems requirements from the CDC, the Pennsylvania Department of Health, and ASHRAE;
  • where possible, increasing outside air to buildings, and also using economizers, which pull in outside air, to boost ventilation and air circulation;
  • continuing to execute a rigorous preventative maintenance program to determine current status and address any deficiencies in air distribution/air flow, as well as other matters;
  • maintaining indoor comfort not only through ventilation and circulation of air, but also temperature and humidity – since these factors influence the time aerosol virus droplets remain in the air;
  • transitioning to air filters that increase overall unit efficiency, with preventative maintenance procedures in place to verifiy all air filters are correctly installed (additional filter reviews continue to identify areas for filration improvements); and
  • maintaining existing and continuing the evaluation of additional UV lighting systems, where practical, to air handlers campuswide.

In addition:

  • All buildings on campus comply with the building codes in effect when built, including ASHRAE research-based outdoor air ventilation rates for each space.
  • Penn State is sponsoring UV disinfectant research for mechanical systems and exploring bipolar ionization systems that can deactivate harmful substances like bacteria, mold, allergens and viruses.

With questions

Those who have questions about their space should contact Facilities at 717-531-4525 or

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