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Restaurants upgrade HVAC systems to limit spread of COVID-19

Posted at 10:20 PM, Jan 31, 2021
and last updated 2021-01-31 22:20:36-05

BIRMINGHAM, Mich. (WXYZ) — The end of another shutdown is almost over, as restaurants across Michigan are getting ready to let their customers back inside.

“We are so excited just to have people in here and to be warm again,” said Rachel Stemplewski, Taproom Manager at Griffin Claw Brewing in Birmingham. "People have been out there in the snow, in the rain, in the freezing cold bringing blankets and pillows to sit on, anything to keep warm to support us.”

With fewer tables and bottles of hand sanitizer, it's easy to spot the changes the brewery made for indoor dining. However, their most important and most expensive change, is a bit harder to see.

“You can see the red light on there which means it’s running,” said Griffin Claw Marketing Director Christopher Lasher, pointing to the new UV Light air purifier attached to the HVAC.

The new system is meant to help sanitize the air and prevent the spread of COVID-19.

“It’s this really cool technology that we invested in that kills things on contact," Lasher said. "It causes (particles) to group together and become larger so they can be filtered out better as it filters out the air.”

HVAC upgrades like this are what the state of Michigan is encouraging restaurants to look at. Not necessarily this high end of an upgrade, but improved air flow and better filters go a long way.

“In many ways, they can make a few small changes and try to get those air changes per hour up there,” said Sean Egan, Michigan Director of COVID Workplace Safety. "If you could change the air every 10 minutes, you're really gonna limit the probability of someone sick in there spreading it to someone else.”

The state just launched the new "Safer Dining Program." It's meant to help guide restaurants on potential HVAC upgrades.

“Getting these improvements does lower the probability that if someone is in there with COVID, that it can hang around and transfer to somebody else,” Egan said. "If your system can handle it we’re really pushing for you to upgrade your filters to MERV 13 or better."

However, major upgrades are not cheap. Egan says Governor Whitmer requested $10 million to fund the program, but until that funding is approved, restaurants will have to foot the bill.

“It was a big expense," Lahser said. "But it was worth it.”

Griffin Claw upgraded their HVAC during the first shutdown, hoping customers would feel more comfortable to return while also keeping them and the staff safe.

“I think it’s really hard right now because people haven't been able to go out for a long time, so we want to provide a really nice experience,” Stemplewski said.

For more information on the Safer Dining Program, click here.