ResearchOn the rise: Public’s fear of airborne COVID transmission escalates as winter approaches

New phs Index reveals one in 10 people have felt so uncomfortable by COVID risk they have walked out of a premises.
Content Team9 months ago11 min

One in 10 people have walked out of a premises because they have felt so uncomfortable about the risk of catching COVID-19, reveals a new report by facilities services provider phs Group.

In new, independently-commissioned consumer research, phs uncovers that more than one in five consumers have experienced inadequate hygiene measures and nearly half (46%) have been faced with a lack of social distancing. This has led to 29% saying they are not confident in the hygiene measures within the places they visit and 34% lacking confidence in their social distancing practices.

The findings are reported by phs Group in its latest phs index report (published10 December 2020) analysing the impact of COVID restrictions on organisation closures and consumer confidence in visiting premises during the coronavirus pandemic. It particularly highlights consumer concerns on the airborne risk of spreading COVID-19 indoors.

Unveiling insights into Brits’ attitudes towards visiting indoor premises, phs reveals more than two-thirds (68%) of consumers are concerned about catching COVID-19 indoors with 54% saying they are more concerned as winter approaches. Almost half (47%) do not want to spend time in indoor environments due to the risk of coronavirus and nearly a third (30%) say they only do so if they have to. While 51% say they have avoided indoor settings due to the risk of catching COVID-19, 41% did so as they were worried others would come too close to them. A quarter (26%) avoided places as they didn’t trust the measures in place were enough to protect them.

With Christmas playing heavily on the minds of the nation, 47% of people say they have already changed their usual plans. The majority agree that Christmas interactions may increase the spread of COVID-19; phs found 66% are concerned people will be less vigilant of social distancing rules indoors over the festive season. The research found 37% confess being less vigilant at social distancing when spending time indoors with friends or family.

The call to action from consumers for organisations is clear. 54% say organisations should be doing more to reduce the risk of infection. 51% say premises should limit numbers indoors, 46% call for mask enforcement at entrances and 39% want someone to be tasked with enforcing physical distancing indoors. 29% of people call for organisations to install air purifiers indoors. However, once they learned how air purifiers clean the air by physically removing impurities such as germs, viruses and pollutants, as many as 61% say air purifiers should be mandatory in indoor environments to curb the spread of the virus. Consumers say these measures would make them feel safer, reassured, that the premises had their best interests in mind and, crucially, more likely to visit

Within the report, phs air quality experts have teamed up with a leading Cambridge University professor to examine the airborne risk of coronavirus indoors; a risk they suggest is not being taken seriously enough in the fight against infection.

Aerosols linger in the air for hours at a time and can be spread around a building

Fluid mechanics expert Professor Paul Linden, of Cambridge University, commented: “Indoor air quality is a real concern in the spread of coronavirus. Much of the focus on COVID-19 has been the transmission by physical touch and larger droplets expelled when an infected person breathes, talks and coughs but what we’re not talking about enough is the smaller infected droplets and particles which remain airborne and are not contained by masks. Growing evidence indicates these infected aerosols linger in the air for hours at a time and can be spread around a building – even after an infected person has left creating an extended risk of transmission. During the winter, we’re more likely to be spending time indoors with less natural ventilation, meaning the air we breathe could be more concentrated with particulates. If we fail to combat the risk of airborne infection, we risk being exposed by a large gap in our defences. Improving indoor air quality must be at the forefront if we truly want to create COVID-safe environments.”

Bolster public confidence

David Taylor-Smith, CEO of phs Group, said: “The research demonstrates the extent of concern consumers feel about spending time indoors and the risk of catching COVID-19, so much so they are actively avoiding certain indoor premises and want organisations to do more to make them feel safer and combat the spread. While this is vital from a health perspective, as an economy it is also essential organisations take the right measures to stay open wherever they can and welcome staff, visitors and customers into their premises safely. They need to bolster public confidence and reassure people they are doing everything possible to be COVID safe.

“We’ve all heard the message of ‘hands, face and space’ and these are important aspects in infection control combated by hand washing, masks and social distancing. But what about the air we breathe? Concerns over indoor air quality have been growing for some time and with the combination of winter and Christmas the risk of COVID-19, is further increasing. Scientists worldwide are pointing to the airborne risk of contamination and this urgently needs addressing to enable people to spend time in indoor settings more safely. Organisations using air purifiers are already converts in providing cleaner, fresher, healthier air and proving to their building users that they are taking the risks seriously for now and for the future. It is a difficult time for businesses right now. With so many premises hit again by closure, there are enough reasons for consumers to keep away, fears organisations are not doing enough to reduce the risk should not be one of them.”

For the full phs Index and indoor air quality report, click here.

Survey methodology

Consumer research: The research for phs Group was carried out online by Opinion Matters between 11/11/2020 and 13/11/2020 amongst a panel resulting in 2,005 UK adults responding. All research conducted adheres to the MRS Codes of Conduct (2019) in the UK and ICC/ESOMAR World Research Guidelines. Opinion Matters is registered with the Information Commissioner’s Office and is fully compliant with the General Data Protection Regulation (GDPR) and the Data Protection Act (2018).

For more content on airborne COVID transmission, click here

Content Team

Work in Mind is a content platform designed to give a voice to thinkers, businesses, journalists and regulatory bodies in the field of healthy buildings.

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