TORONTO -- Two companies from Guelph, Ont. specializing in building engineering and genetics have come together to form Songbird Life Science, a COVID-19 testing and health-protection service with a goal to help businesses reopen amid the pandemic.

The company is currently consulting with the lighting industry, working with a baby food processing plant, and will be looking to help schools in Ontario reopen in the fall.

“The challenge in the office of the future is how do you get people back to feeling safe.” Dave Bullock, Director of Innovations, said.

Laying the ground rules for staff and visitors at the entrance of any indoor workplace is key, Bullock said, as people won’t come into work or visit a business unless they know how they are dealing with distancing, testing and hygiene.

For example, clear acrylic dividers will be important new features in many workspaces, he said, especially when physical distancing in not always possible.

Bullock also argues that wearing a mask will be essential to help prevent the spread of COVID-19, but measures could vary depending on the space.

“I think in some settings like a classroom with young children, then it warrants a discussion because there are all kinds of other complications there, but for the most part, it's a no brainer for us.”

As schools eye reopening this fall, Bullock says the environment will be very different in terms of spacing and use of that space.

“Yes, kids are going to be touching things they shouldn't be touching, and embracing each other and doing other things,” he said. “So a rigorous testing program becomes another important feature of school life.”

“No question you're going to see hand hygiene in every classroom, you're going to see recreation time take a different form.”

One feature he thinks will be a part of every work place will be high-efficiency particulate air filters or HEPA filters. They remove more than 99.95 per cent of all particles in the air, including viruses. They’re currently used in airplanes and hospitals.

A recent study showed COVID-19 transmission in a Korean call centre was almost exclusively on one side of the room and airflow was identified as a key factor.

“Ventilation and movement of air is probably one of the most complex factors in all of this, and one of the hardest to understand,” Bullock said.

New ventilation measures, surface-cleaning, space dividers, testing programs and possibly the need to expand the office to accommodate distancing – it all adds up to a big bill for businesses. But Bullock says their clients also know there can also be a big cost to not making all these changes.

“Investing in pathogen control and a COVID-detection system is absolutely a cost, but the cost of not doing so is far, far greater.”