The International WELL BuildingInstitute (IWBI) was well on its way to bringing the final versionof the WELL Building Standard version 2 to vote before itsgovernance council. Then COVID-19 hit. 

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"The very same day [version 2 wasgoing to the council] was when we shut our office down in New YorkCity and sent everyone into a remote work environment,' says RachelGutter, President of the IWBI.

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When that happened, theorganization decided to change course. It regrouped and convened aTask Force on COVID-19 and other Respiratory Infections: Preventionand Preparedness, Resilience and Recovery. This group will helpdefine the critical role buildings, organizations and communitiesplay in reducing the health burden from coronavirus and otherinfectious diseases.

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IMBI plans to gather facilitiesmanagers, physicians, indoor air quality researchers, municipalfacilities to tackle some difficult questions around buildings andairborne disease. 

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"We're particularly interested inplaces where researchers and science haven't fully answeredquestions," Gutter says. "A good example of that is antimicrobialsurfaces. There's a lot that we still don't know aboutantimicrobial surfaces and their efficacy when it comes toCOVID-19. But there are also the long-term ramifications ofantimicrobial treatments. This is a place where we're lookingforward to a robust dialogue within the community so that we canprescribe best practices and evidence-basedinterventions."

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At the forefront of manydiscussions about COVID-19 has been ventilation. "It's somethingthat, as far as COVID-19 is concerned, is ever-evolving," Guttersays. "We're convening some of the best experts in the world toadvise about whether expectations for things like ventilation andfiltration need to be adjusted," Gutter says. 

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Open office plans are anothertricky proposition in the age of COVID-19. Some people wonder ifthey could hasten the spread of airborne viruses. "I think anotherbig question that's coming up is around the future of open-planoffices and things like desk sharing or hoteling," Gutter says."Those are very large trends in the workplace."

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Proper cleaning, of course, canlimit the spread of bacteria and viruses. That's another topic IMBIplans to tackle. 

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"We need to reconsider thosepractices with COVID-19," Gutter says. "There are a lot ofquestions coming up around cleaning and protocols, even down to thequestion of using hand dryers or hand towels or papertowels."

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As it tackles these issues, IWBIplans to offer guidance for foundations, municipalities,congressional offices and national governments. One place that itcould provide information is around low-income communities, whichare disproportionately impacted by COVID-19. "That's a place wherewe can provide some direction about the types of interventions thatcan be matched to the communities that need it the most for themaximum impact," Gutter says.

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IWBI even sees an opportunity toreach out to the investment community. "We'd like to commence aconversation with the investment community about what investing forhealth looks like and how we factor elements of preparedness aroundsupporting human health as a material consideration for all futureinvestments," Gutter says.

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Leslie Shaver

Les Shaver has been covering commercial and residential real estate for almost 20 years. His work has appeared in Multifamily Executive, Builder, units, Arlington Magazine in addition to GlobeSt.com and Real Estate Forum.