Designated businesses waited for answers from Albany about when they could resume operations, and they didn’t like what they heard.
Gov. Andrew M. Cuomo recently said that gyms, malls and movie theaters would remain closed until they work out how to prevent air filtration systems from recirculating the novel coronavirus. Certain filters exists that can remove these particles, and state authorities began exploring the feasibility of using them.
“There are air filtration devices — air filters that can actually help with the COVID virus and NASA has studied these. There are HEPA filters, which are high-efficiency particulate air filters that can actually filter out the COVID virus. The COVID virus is 0.1 microns. There are HEPA filters that can filter out 0.01, so any malls that will open in New York — large malls — we will make it mandatory that they have air filtration systems that can filter out the COVID virus,” Mr. Cuomo said, according to a news release issued Monday by his office. “For many of these systems, it depends on what filter you install, called the MERV [minimum efficiency reporting value] rating of the filter. But they have different filters that filter out different sized particles, and they have filters that can actually filter out and catch the COVID virus. For large mall reopenings — which we haven’t done yet — but we’re going to make this mandatory. I would recommend — the state recommends — for all businesses and offices, they explore the potential for their air conditioning/air filtration system, adding a filter that can filter out the COVID virus. We have been looking at this issue because we look around the country and you’re seeing malls, you’re seeing air conditioning systems, indoor spaces that have been problematic.”
The governor’s reference to HEPA filters caused some confusion. These devices are not compatible with many air filtration systems in use today at large facilities. According to a story published Tuesday by Business Insider, many news organizations erroneously claimed that malls must set up HEPA filters before they can reopen.
“News outlets ran with the angle that Cuomo was mandating that malls install HEPA filters in order to reopen,” the article reported. “But a statement put out later on June 29 clarified that the governor was announcing that ‘air conditioning filters with a minimum efficiency reporting value rating capable of filtering COVID-19 particles or similar air exchange measures will be mandatory for large mall reopenings.’ All filters can be graded with a … MERV, from 1 to 16. According to the EPA, MERVs ‘report a filter’s ability to capture larger particles between 0.3 and 10 microns.’ More effective filters receive higher MERV ratings.”
So these businesses aren’t required to install HEPA systems, which may be cost prohibitive. They can use equipment that works better with the units they have.
However, this doesn’t address why gyms, malls and theaters must remain closed while other large facilities have been open all along. Jefferson County fields complaints every day about many shoppers at the two Walmart stores in the area not wearing masks.
Walmart has massive spaces that holds hundreds of people at any given time. What’s the difference in recirculating air potentially infected with the coronavirus in a shopping mall and at a Walmart store?
In fact, why aren’t all businesses required to remove these particles? Small shops have more confined spaces, so breathing in virus-infected air is more likely in these facilities.
The state has imposed yet another arbitrary rule that unfairly targets some companies. Officials need to address this concern in a more equitable manner.