Safety-first approach kick-starts cautious return of fans


[Photo/Agencies]

Allen Hershkowitz won't use the word "safe" because there is no certainty in life sciences. But the 65-year-old Ph. D. with decades of environmental science experience says he would feel comfortable going to a socially distanced indoor sporting event with one of his children.

"Given the protocols, I would feel OK about it," he said.

Arena by arena, venue by venue, fans are returning to watch live sports indoors amid encouraging signs during the pandemic. Plenty of safety rules are in place for the NCAA Tournament that opens in Indiana this week with limited attendance in the stands, just like the NBA and NHL.

Experts say attending is relatively safe because of how big arenas with high ceilings work to move and mix air-as long as capacity limits allow for physical distancing and masks are still worn properly.

"If we're talking about reduced capacity, people wearing masks most of the time and making use of that large volume, I think the risks are probably very low," said Dr. Richard Corsi, dean of Portland State's college of engineering and computer science.

"If you're sitting with your family and you're distanced from others and people are wearing masks except for when they're eating a hot dog or whatever, and you've got this large volume and you make use of the volume, my guess is that the risk is pretty low. Doesn't mean it's zero."

The reduced risk of contracting the coronavirus has to do with how much space surrounds each person when venue attendance is capped at 25 percent, as it is for the tournament, and how often fresh air from outside is refreshed into a venue.

The American Society of Heating, Refrigerating and Air-Conditioning Engineers sets standards for how many cubic feet per meter of air space is required for everything from homes to restaurants to office buildings. Limiting capacity gives everyone more air.

"If you're running at it half full, everyone gets twice as much ventilation," said ME Engineers managing partner Ed Bosco, who has consulted with major sports leagues and helped evaluate more than 30 arenas in the past year. "If you're running it at 10 percent full, everyone gets 10 times the ventilation air."

Then there's how often that air is changed out. While an airplane does over 20 air changes per hour because of its confined space and predictable ventilation patterns, a sports arena can do between five and seven air changes per hour. Harvard's John Spengler has recommended to school districts four to five per hour for the return of students.

"To have a venue the size of Staples Center or (Madison Square) Garden or Barclays Center doing five full air exchanges per hour, that's quite extraordinary," said Hershkowitz, co-chair of the International WELL Building Institute Advisory for Sports and Entertainment Venues, who also is an adviser for the NBA and Major League Baseball's New York Yankees.

Some older buildings have had their systems retrofitted or fixed to ensure maximum air changes and good "mixing" of that air into the rafters away from people, though most constructed in the past 20-plus years were already capable of high-quality ventilation.

"At the time, those things weren't done, per se, for pandemic-based scenarios," said Ryan Sickman, global director of sports at the Gensler architecture firm. "But they were done for very similar things. It was cleaner, it was removing bacteria from the air, it was removing particulates from the air. It was providing for a vast number of people clean air, and that's an important part of the experience."

Of course, it takes more energy to run those systems, but it's considered worth it to bring fans and their dollars back. The NHL has 12 pages of arena protocols outlining air change and other requirements; 18 of its 31 teams allow fans or plan to soon. In the NBA, it's 17 of 30, though that number could quickly increase to 20.

"Subject to our protocols and what local government is mandating, we think we can be safe and protective," NHL commissioner Gary Bettman said.

Coronavirus cases being down and vaccination rates up have made the conditions right for easing fans back in, said Shandy Dearth, director of undergraduate epidemiology education at IUPUI's school of public health in Indianapolis. She said if the US were in a surge right now, it would be hard to mitigate risk of infection.

And while there has been no evidence thus far of community spread from fans attending sporting events, which NCAA chief medical officer Dr. Brian Hainline pointed out last week, experts naturally harbor concerns about bringing thousands of people together inside during a pandemic over three weeks in Indiana and Texas, the site of the women's NCAA Tournament.

"I worry probably in arenas or would worry more about the areas in arenas where people are congregating, so concourses and entrances and exits more than the seating area if people are well spaced out and it's well ventilated," said William Bahnfleth, chair of the ASHRAE Epidemic Task Force and professor of architectural engineering at Penn State.

Lucas Oil Stadium, which will host the men's Final Four, is a vast building with a 70,000-person capacity that will have at most 17,500, and the NFL's Indianapolis Colts say it has hospital-grade air filters.

"There's a lot of air in the area," said Ana Rule, Ph. D., an assistant professor and director of exposure assessment laboratories at Johns Hopkins University. "Because it's a high volume, you have a larger volume of air in which the potential aerosols that are emitted by people are diluted into, so that helps."

Even 20,000-seat arenas have that volume, and other efforts can mitigate risk further. Ultraviolet technologies touted as a way to keep the coronavirus from replicating could soon become mainstream.

Experts insist mask-wearing is still essential at indoor sporting events. Corsi said masks are one layer of safety, along with distancing and ventilation to keeping fans safe, which will be a constant reminder at the NCAA Tournament.

"We know the mask use is a critical step to making this a successful event," Dearth said. "We've got a lot of lessons learned from the last year, so it's not an experiment. I think we know enough now to know what we need to do."

艾伦·赫什科维茨不会使用“安全”这个词,因为生命科学中没有确定性。但是这位拥有数十年环境科学经验的65岁博士说,他会很乐意和他的一个孩子去参加一个社交距离较远的室内体育赛事。“考虑到协议,我觉得没问题,”他说。一个接一个,一个接一个,在流感大流行期间令人鼓舞的迹象中,粉丝们正回到室内观看现场体育比赛。与NBA和NHL一样,本周在印第安纳州开幕的NCAA锦标赛有很多安全规则,但观众人数有限。专家说,参加会议相对安全,因为天花板很高的大舞台可以移动和混合空气,只要容量限制允许物理距离,并且口罩仍然佩戴得当。波特兰州立大学工程和计算机科学学院院长理查德·科尔西博士说:“如果我们谈论的是容量减少,人们大部分时间都戴着口罩,使用这么大的容量,我认为风险可能很低。”“如果你和你的家人坐在一起,你和其他人保持距离,人们戴着口罩,除非他们在吃热狗或其他什么东西,你有这么大的音量,你利用了这个音量,我的猜测是风险很低。不代表是零。”

感染冠状病毒风险的降低与场地上座率被限制在25%时每个人周围的空间有多大有关,就像锦标赛一样,与外界新鲜空气多久被更新一次有关。美国供暖、制冷和空调工程师协会规定了从家庭到餐馆到办公楼的每平方米空气空间需要多少立方英尺的标准。限制容量给每个人更多的空气。“如果你在半满状态下跑步,每个人都有两倍的换气量,”ME Engineers的管理合伙人埃德·博斯科(Ed Bosco)说,他在过去一年里咨询了各大体育联盟,并帮助评估了30多个竞技场。“如果你以10%的满负荷运行,每个人都可以获得10倍的通风空气。”然后是多久换一次空气。由于空间有限和可预测的通风模式,飞机每小时换气20次以上,而体育场每小时换气5到7次。哈佛大学的约翰·斯宾格勒(John Spengler)向学区推荐了每小时4到5次的学生返校时间。“有一个斯台普斯中心或(麦迪逊广场)花园或巴克莱中心大小的场地每小时进行五次全空气交换,这是非常了不起的,”国际威尔建筑研究所体育和娱乐场地咨询委员会联合主席赫什科维茨说,他也是NBA和美国职业棒球大联盟纽约扬基队的顾问。一些较旧的建筑已经对其系统进行了改造或固定,以确保最大限度的空气变化以及空气与远离人群的椽子的良好“混合”,尽管大多数建筑在过去20多年里已经能够进行高质量的通风。根斯勒建筑公司的全球体育总监瑞安·西克曼说:“当时,这些事情本身并没有在大流行的情况下发生。”。“但他们做的事情非常相似。它更干净,它能去除空气中的细菌,它能去除空气中的微粒。它为大量的人提供了清洁的空气,这是体验的重要组成部分。”当然,运行这些系统需要更多的精力,但让粉丝和他们的钱回来是值得的。NHL有12页的竞技场协议,概述了换气和其他要求;它的31支球队中有18支允许球迷或计划很快。在NBA,30人中有17人,尽管这个数字可能会迅速增加到20人。“根据我们的协议和当地政府的授权,我们认为我们可以安全和保护,”NHL专员加里·贝特曼说。印第安纳波利斯IUPUI公共卫生学院的本科流行病学教育主任颜培珊·迪尔思说,冠状病毒病例的减少和疫苗接种率的提高为让粉丝们回归创造了条件。她说,如果美国目前处于激增状态,将很难降低感染风险。NCAA首席医疗官布莱恩·海宁博士上周指出,虽然目前还没有证据表明参加体育赛事的球迷会传播这种疾病,但专家们自然担心,在为期三周的印第安纳州和得克萨斯州(女子NCAA锦标赛的举办地)大流行期间,会有成千上万的人聚集在一起。“我担心的可能是竞技场,或者会更担心人们聚集的竞技场区域,所以如果人们间隔良好且通风良好,中央大厅和出入口比座位区更重要,”ASHRAE流行病工作队主席兼宾夕法尼亚州立大学建筑工程教授威廉·巴汉弗莱斯说。卢卡斯石油体育场将举办男子四强赛,是一个巨大的建筑,可容纳70,000人,最多可容纳17,500人,NFL的印第安纳波利斯小马队表示,它有医院级的空气过滤器。约翰·霍普金斯大学助理教授兼暴露评估实验室主任安娜·鲁尔博士说:“这个地区空气质量很好。”。“因为它的体积很大,所以人们排放的潜在气溶胶会被稀释到更大的空气体积中,所以这很有帮助。”即使是20,000个座位的竞技场也有这个容量,其他努力可以进一步降低风险。被吹捧为防止冠状病毒复制的方法的紫外线技术可能很快成为主流。专家坚持认为戴口罩在室内体育赛事中仍然是必不可少的。科尔西说,口罩是安全的一层,还有保持距离和通风以确保球迷的安全,这将是NCAA锦标赛的一个持续提醒。迪尔思说:“我们知道口罩的使用是成功举办此次活动的关键一步。”。“我们从去年学到了很多东西,所以这不是一个实验。我认为我们现在知道的足够多,知道我们需要做什么。”

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