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As we start going back to work and the so-called “New Normal” kicks in at various parts of the world. There has been a growing trend in the workplace, commercial spaces, and even airlines on the use of acrylic panels and preventive shields to separate people from one another to avoid the future spread of the coronavirus that causes COVID-19, but does it really work?

My take is NO, and I have a few thoughts on this.

The PROS on COVID-19 prevention

  • It blocks people from being in direct contact with others who speak, sneeze, or cough.
  • It discourages people from sharing things.
  • It hampers people from speaking to each other therefore avoiding interaction that may cause the spread of infection.
  • It provides the much-needed privacy sought after pre-COVID19 times.

The CONS on Social Interaction and Safety

  • It impedes social interaction between human beings.
  • It hinders creativity and the exchange of ideas formulated during face to face conversations.
  • It impedes our mobility and to others lead to claustrophobia.  
  • It adds another layer of bulk and unnecessary partitions that may affect the aesthetic function and in some cases cause safety concerns due to sharp edges and the transparent characteristics of the material.
  • It makes the space look and feels restricted because of these control measures.

I will leave it up to the reader to decide whether which of the pros and cons they are more in favor of as we are all entitled to our own opinions.  

Hence, personally as a seasoned office and commercial interior designer, I am NOT into these extra measures as it basically violates the key element of workplace design which is to encourage social interaction and promote creativity in the workplace. This divider panels may work to prevent the spread of infections caused by the coronavirus “in close contact” but other than that it only serves an individual’s privacy concerns.

Basically, I can say “It does not work’ because you are sacrificing human interaction with very little effect on prevention. One important element you have to consider when indoors is IAQ or Indoor Air Quality (you can download the WSH Singapore IAQ guidelines here), even thou there are these dividers facing an individual, airborne pathogens spread, and travel through the air. According to the US National Institute of Health, It is already proven that the coronavirus is aerosol, it can float and be transmitted through air droplets that’s whey we are encouraged to wear a mask at all times.

Therefore, the key is in good Indoor Air Quality. Biological air treatment systems and disinfection devices equipped with UVC lights can be a good solution to air disinfection. In Singapore we have the LumenAire, a hybrid light and air disinfection system that disables the DNA of airborne pathogens that prevents viruses, bacteria and fungi from reproducing and performing vital cellular functions.

Also, these dividers are just a short-term solution, it will be dismantled and thrown away once a vaccine has been formulated. Improving IAQ Indoor Air Quality is a permanent and sustainable solution in the long term. It should be able to prevent not only future epidemics but also common sickness like flu, allergies and communicable disease associated with bad indoor air or in some case SBS or Sick Building Syndrome.

Conclusion

I reckon these dividers are a contractor solution, I do not see most designers agreeing to implement this in the process. It is another waste of materials and resources to install these panels without sufficient evidence that it is a workable long-term solution despite the damage it can cause in our social and psychological well-being.

There are technology-based solutions like the LumenAire and other HVAC or upper-room UV air disinfection systems available that are effective and safe. To address this as a designer, why would we resort to physical barriers that limit us to live like humans in a “SOCIETY” where we are wired to live in.

Watch this short video webinar to learn about air disinfection

You may also want to read this related Article; Life in a Co-Working Space during a virus outbreak.

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