While the first half of 2020 has been dominated by COVID-19, the impact on codes and standards remains to be seen, according to experts.

The American Society for Health Care Engineering (ASHE) has identified specific recommendations that health care facilities managers should consider in light of COVID-19, but any proposal to update or change codes and standards based on the pandemic should be approached with caution, says Chad E. Beebe, AIA, FASHE, CHFM, deputy executive director for ASHE.

“There is a lot of talk now about upgrading codes to deal with the surge and the pandemic, but we want to be careful that we don’t have a knee-jerk response to fix something that may not be broken,” Beebe says. “One of the most beneficial assets we have is the ability to think on our feet and come up with responses to address emergency situations. Our current regulations are flexible.”

In early May, John Williams, chair of the International Code Council (ICC) Committee on Healthcare, said the discussion of post-pandemic code changes was just getting started. Historically, the ICC takes a broad approach to preparing health care facilities for a wide variety of disasters, including pandemics, so it will be difficult to gauge whether changes are necessary and whether they will make sense in the larger picture.

“If a suggested code change is relatively easy and provides a great deal of benefit, those updates are easy to support,” Williams says. “But if it’s something that will only be realized in rare or specific cases, then we have to go through that decision-making process about where our time and resources are best spent.”

Any proposed changes based on the pandemic would be a collaborative effort among a broad segment of industry and regulatory bodies including ASHE, the National Fire Protection Association, the ICC and The Joint Commission, says Jonathan Flannery, MHSA, FASHE, FACHE, ASHE’s senior associate director of advocacy.

“Right now, the information and guidelines ASHE is providing is focused on information that is outside of the code regulations,” he says. “The pandemic has really impacted the physical environment but most of the recommended responses have been outside of what is required by codes and standards.”

The ICC offers a Coronavirus Response Center with resources for navigating the pandemic, including information on switching to virtual permitting and inspection; while ASHE offers COVID-19 resources for health care facilities.