The spa and hospitality industry has been hit particularly hard by the COVID-19 pandemic. Locations around the world have been forced to close at a time when the restorative, health-promoting measures that spas and wellness rooms can offer are critically needed to help support people dealing with both physical well-being and mental health challenges such as stress, anxiety and isolation.
At the International WELL Building Institute, we recognise that our buildings, organisations and communities are our most powerful tool in supporting our health and well-being. According to the US Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), the majority of what influences our health and well-being is based on the physical and social environments that we live and work in. The WELL Building Standard (WELL), a framework utilised by more than 4,900 projects across 698 million square feet, supports the creation of physical and social environments that give people an opportunity to be the healthiest versions of themselves. With its foundation in research and evidence, as well as global focus, WELL translates what we know into what we practice. Many of the research-backed strategies within WELL, spanning from building design and operations, to company programmes and policies, provide an actionable framework for organisations and communities to move toward a safer and healthier future.
As a result of this global crisis, we’re seeing renewed attention to our buildings and the need to place health and equity at the center of their design, construction and operation. Buildings are where we live our lives, and they can help, or they can hinder. A greater focus on ventilation, fresh air, filtration, and hygiene and handwashing support is critically needed as all types of organisations prepare to get back to business. Organisational policies and practices, too, have the potential to help mitigate the spread of the disease, as well as influence the mental health of employees during a time like this.
Providing mental health support, maintaining connectedness and providing education regarding the benefits of a healthy lifestyle are important as ever. Transmission of COVID-19 largely occurs within indoor and enclosed environments, where people spend 90 per cent of their time. And while longer-term design strategies are important in reducing the risks of infectious disease spread overall, the urgent need to meet high health and safety standards in the existing buildings we need to return to has prompted a laser focus on strategies that can be implemented immediately to protect all stakeholders from acute threats.
WELL Health-Safety Rating
What has emerged is the WELL Health-Safety Rating for Facility Operations and Management, an evidence-based, third-party verified rating focused on operational policies, maintenance protocols, stakeholder engagement and emergency plans to address a post COVID-19 environment now and broader health and safety-related issues into the future. Drawing on principles established by the WELL Building Standard, the rating focuses on key elements such as cleaning and sanitisation procedures; emergency preparedness programmes including plans to support business continuity, remote work readiness and project re-entry; health service resources such as improving access to healthcare, vaccinations and paid sick leave; and air and water quality management. Finally, stakeholder engagement and educational resources are critical to help individuals cultivate healthy habits and resilience in response to physical and mental health stressors.
Air and water quality management has been of particular interest to businesses across the industry, as these interventions can reduce exposure to pathogens which can enter our system through breaks in the skin or through our body’s natural openings, such as our mouth, nose, and eyes. Without proper maintenance and filtration, heating, ventilation and air conditioning systems can build up mould and particulates that can propagate respiratory diseases, especially after periods of inactivity. Specific measures to help minimise the spread of infectious diseases such as COVID-19 include mitigating indoor air pollution by increasing fresh air supply through mechanical and/or natural means, avoiding air stagnation, implementing proper maintenance and air filtration through inventories of air treatment systems, and monitoring water and indoor quality parameters.
The WELL Health-Safety Rating is informed by guidance developed by the World Health Organization (WHO), the CDC, global disease control and prevention centres and emergency management agencies, recognised standard-making bodies, such as ASTM International and ASHRAE, leading academic and research institutions, and IWBI’s Task Force on COVID-19. The rating also includes insights collected through the WELL Advisory for Hotels and Resorts – comprised of representatives from Mandarin Oriental Hotel Group and Loews Hotels – along with co-chairs Richard Carmona, 17th Surgeon General of the US, and Stacey Rizza, MD, Professor of Medicine-Infectious Disease and President of the Staff at Mayo Clinic Rochester.
Already, more than 7,000 properties totaling nearly 400 million square feet in 21 countries have enrolled in the WELL Health-Safety Rating programme across every type of building and facility – from offices and hotels, to schools and sports stadiums, as well as retail establishments, restaurants, and theatres and entertainment venues. A number of notable organisations from around the world – the New York Yankees, Royal Albert Hall and the Empire State Building – have already committed to the programme so that we can get back to our workplaces and many of our favourite pastimes and wellness activities sooner than later.
The COVID-19 pandemic has highlighted the critical role that buildings play in supporting people’s health, safety and well-being. Earning the WELL Health-Safety Rating seal can help properties signal to employees and guests that evidence-based protocols, grounded in science, have been adopted and verified with third-party document review. This is an important first step as we help ensure investors that their assets are resilient and prepared and provide much-needed confidence and trust to the people inside our buildings.