Efficacy of Portable Air Cleaners and Masking for Reducing Indoor Exposure to Simulated Exhaled SARS-CoV-2 Aerosols - United States, 2021.MMWR Morb Mortal Wkly Rep. 2021 Jul 09; 70(27):972-976.MM
SARS-CoV-2, the virus that causes COVID-19, can be spread by exposure to droplets and aerosols of respiratory fluids that are released by infected persons when they cough, sing, talk, or exhale. To reduce indoor transmission of SARS-CoV-2 between persons, CDC recommends measures including physical distancing, universal masking (the use of face masks in public places by everyone who is not fully vaccinated), and increased room ventilation (1). Ventilation systems can be supplemented with portable high efficiency particulate air (HEPA) cleaners* to reduce the number of infectious particles in the air and provide enhanced protection from transmission between persons (2); two recent reports found that HEPA air cleaners in classrooms could reduce overall aerosol particle concentrations by ≥80% within 30 minutes (3,4). To investigate the effectiveness of portable HEPA air cleaners and universal masking at reducing exposure to exhaled aerosol particles, the investigation team used respiratory simulators to mimic a person with COVID-19 and other, uninfected persons in a conference room. The addition of two HEPA air cleaners that met the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA)-recommended clean air delivery rate (CADR) (5) reduced overall exposure to simulated exhaled aerosol particles by up to 65% without universal masking. Without the HEPA air cleaners, universal masking reduced the combined mean aerosol concentration by 72%. The combination of the two HEPA air cleaners and universal masking reduced overall exposure by up to 90%. The HEPA air cleaners were most effective when they were close to the aerosol source. These findings suggest that portable HEPA air cleaners can reduce exposure to SARS-CoV-2 aerosols in indoor environments, with greater reductions in exposure occurring when used in combination with universal masking.