Care home building materials hold key to protection from infection, says architect

The choice of materials used in care home design and construction can help to minimise the spread of infection such as the COVID-19 virus, says DWA Architects.

The specialist in healthcare and care home design says many materials do not have the right enzymes to create the chemical reactions necessary for reproduction, which means they begin to degrade as soon as they leave their host.

“Viruses therefore have a variety of surface survival rates,” says architect Lauren Di Pietro. “There is no hard-and-fast rule for how long a virus can survive outside of a host, but the type of surface as well as environmental temperature and humidity can have a huge effect on this.”

Lauren Di Pietro

Di Pietro says it is crucial to look at what the sector can learn from the COVID-19 pandemic to protect the most vulnerable in future.

She cites an ongoing study by researchers at the National Institutes of Health in the USA which has determined that the coronavirus can survive up to 72 hours on stainless steel and plastic surfaces.

Survival on other surfaces was lower; up to 24 hours on cardboard and up to 4 hours on copper. The virus can only survive 20 minutes on human skin because of its pH and porous nature. In general, viruses survive longest at lower temperatures, higher humidity and on non-porous surfaces, such as stainless steel.

“Understanding how materials behave and their characteristics for infection control, as well as combustibility for fire safety, durability for security and sustainability for longevity is a key skill in design,” says Di Pietro. “This can minimise risk to residents, patients and staff, ensuring that our buildings can help to look after us all.” 

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