Since the beginning of the COVID-19 Pandemic in early 2020, researchers have been exploring a variety of ways to mitigate the spread of COVID-19. The current Omicron variant continues to take the U.S. by storm, and there is an ever-present need to contain the variant to reduce COVID-19 cases. As more is learned about how COVID-19 spreads, there is increased interest in utilizing higher MERV-rated air filters to reduce Omicron carriers. The purpose of this article is to explore how COVID spreads, what MERV filter ratings mean, and how MERV 13 filters can play a role in reducing the spread of COVID-19 and the Omicron variant.
But First, How Does COVID-19 Spread?
COVID-19 spreads from person to person in several distinct ways. COVID-19 is primarily spread through people in close contact with each other (at a conversational distance or within six feet of each other). The COVID-19 particles pass from an infected person’s mouth or nose, travel through the air and are then contracted by the other person through inhalation or through direct contact with the eyes, nose, or mouth. People may also become infected with COVID-19 after touching a contaminated surface and then touching their eyes, mouth, or nose. Another key avenue the virus can spread through is poorly ventilated buildings, particularly buildings with high occupancy levels and where people spend long periods of time. With poor ventilation the COVID-19 particles may stay suspended in the air for longer periods of time or travel farther distances, putting more occupants at risk. This is where air filters come into the discussion.
MERV Air Filter Overview
The Minimum Efficiency Reporting Value (MERV) of air filters was first introduced in 1987 by the American Society of Heating, Refrigerating and Air-Conditioning Engineers (ASHRAE). The MERV rating system is based upon an air filter’s ability to capture larger particles and is helpful when looking to compare the performance of different air filters. MERV ratings range from 1 to 20, but MERV 16 – 20 are typically only found in hospitals, nuclear power plants, or other areas with radioactive, carcinogenic, or other dangerous and extremely small (less than 0.30-micron particle size) pollutants.
If you’re searching for a breakdown of each MERV rating from 1 to 20, associated contaminants that are filtered, what buildings utilize which MERV ratings, and types of filters for each MERV, here is a MERV rating chart. While the MERV 8 filter is the most common air filter on the market and is the default filter for many home HVAC systems, the spread of COVID-19 alongside an increasing interest in building occupant health and safety has led to the rise in popularity of air filters with high ratings, like the MERV 13 filter.
MERV 13 Air Filters and COVID-19
The MERV 13 filter’s ability to capture virus particles has led to home and commercial building owners evaluating MERV 13 for their HVAC systems during the COVID-19 pandemic. According to the EPA, upgrading to a MERV 13 filter could improve the HVAC system’s ability to remove viruses, like COVID-19, from the air. But before making any upgrades, check your HVAC system to determine if the system will support a MERV 13 filter. You may actually impair your HVAC system’s filtration ability by trying to install a MERV 13 filter if your HVAC system does not support this filter rating. Much is still unknown about COVID-19 and Omicron variant transmission, but the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) has determined that ventilation system upgrades and improvements can help increase the amount of clean air indoors and dilute air pollutants like COVID-19.
The CDC has also provided an extensive list of tools to improve ventilation to utilize when looking to protect your home or building occupants from COVID-19. It is important to note the EPA explicitly states that utilizing a MERV 13 filter with your HVAC system by itself is not enough to protect you from COVID-19, and that best practices and recommendations from the CDC must be used in tandem with the MERV 13 filter upgrade for greater protection from exposure. MERV 13 filters can aid in protecting you from COVID-19 by filtering some COVID-19 particles from the air, but cannot guarantee you will not be exposed, particularly as COVID-19 may also spread from surfaces and from close contact with others. It is best to implement a variety of best practices (handwashing, social distancing, wearing masks) alongside HVAC upgrades to combat COVID-19 and the Omicron variant.
If you’re wanting to add MERV 13 air filters to your home or business, you can rely on the AIRx Health Filter as an affordable, American-made filter for the ultimate air protection. Click here to learn more!