The Role of Architects Amid the Coronavirus Pandemic

April 2020

Due to the coronavirus, senior care centers have closed their doors to visitors including family members of residents. Though this separation can be heartbreaking, infection control is paramount.

So, what is the role of architects amid the coronavirus pandemic? The American Institute of Architects has established a task force to address this question. The AIA task force will create a database to house a collection of their findings to be a resource for future pandemics. They will also address how to provide rapid-response for Alternative Care Sites (ACS) when healthcare facilities are overwhelmed.

(See AIA COVID-10 Task Force 1: Health Impact Briefing #1 April 6, 2020)

Architectural senior living and healthcare design professionals are also looking for ways to expand their ability to isolate infected individuals. The CDC recommends that residents infected with COVID-19 be placed in Airborne Infection Isolation Rooms (AIIR). These isolation rooms provide special care for individuals who fall under one or more of the following categories: residents with acute illnesses, disruptive residents, and residents who are terminally ill.

(See Facility Guidelines Institute for Health Care Facilities code A4.2-

In 2017, Montag Architects completed a project at Guthrie County Hospital that included a negative pressure isolation room to contain airborne contaminants. There are two types of isolation room to contain contaminants; negative pressure rooms and positive pressure rooms. Negative pressure isolation rooms isolate patients with infectious conditions. All air in negative pressure isolation rooms must be exhausted to the outside and not recirculated throughout the facility in order to protect everyone else in the facility from becoming ill. Positive pressure isolation rooms maintain a higher pressure inside and keep all contaminants away from the patient or resident. Contaminants from the surrounding environment are not allowed to enter the room. (Think “boy in the plastic bubble” with his compromised immune system.)

The state of Iowa does not currently require isolation rooms in skilled nursing facilities. However, codes are constantly changing and maybe this pandemic will change airborne isolation room codes once again.