Shopping malls are on the verge of getting back in business.
Gov. Andrew M. Cuomo on Wednesday backed off a proposed requirement that malls install HEPA filters before they can reopen.
Malls had argued a HEPA mandate would be prohibitively expensive to meet and cause widespread closures of shopping centers.
It was the decision malls had been desperately hoping for.
“You could hear the cheers of excitement from the tenants echoing through the mall corridors when they learned we could reopen,” said Amanda Baumler, the Boulevard Mall’s manager.
The mall will take “extensive steps” to protect shoppers’ health, including consistent disinfection of common areas so that patrons will feel safe shopping again.
The updated proposal from the governor’s office means that malls can use filters that can more easily fit into their existing systems, rather than retrofit heating and cooling equipment for HEPA filters.
Like Boulevard Mall, Eastern Hills has an ambitious property overhaul on the horizon. Making the expensive, time-consuming changes to the current mall to meet Cuomo’s initial proposal wouldn’t have made financial sense. The updated proposal is much more doable, the mall said.
“Our MERV-13 filters were ordered last week when this started to be discussed,” said Russ Fulton, the mall’s manager. “The second they arrive they will be installed and we will swing the doors open.”
The filters are expected to arrive Monday, Fulton said.
“The Governor’s announcement was great news for Pyramid’s tenants, their employees, our own employees, and all of the people living in the communities where our properties are located,” Congel said.
McKinley Mall could not be reached for comment. Fashion Outlets of Niagara Falls USA declined to comment.
Malls in phase four may reopen as early as Friday, “so long as they have enhanced HVAC filtration systems and measures in place,” Cuomo said.
Malls are asked to use filters that have a MERV-13 rating or the highest-rated filter compatible with their heating and cooling systems. No filter can have less than a MERV-11 rating.
MERV stands for Minimum Efficiency Reporting Value, which is a measurement used to evaluate the efficiency of an air filter based on how effective it is at catching particles of varying sizes. The highest MERV rating, before reaching HEPA status, is MERV-16.
“There are air filtration systems that can take COVID out of the air and then there are questions; what filters work on what HVAC systems?” Cuomo said.
HEPA, or High-Efficiency Particulate Air, filters are capable of catching coronavirus particles where lower-rated filters are not. But malls and HVAC industry experts said that retrofitting heating and cooling equipment to use HEPA filters could cost hundreds of thousands of dollars and take months.
To help improve air quality, the governor also outlined ventilation protocols. Malls must increase the amount of outdoor air that is brought into their HVAC systems, reduce the amount of air that is recirculated, set longer system run times, and perform frequent filter checks.
Without the HEPA requirement, malls will not need to make complicated changes to their HVAC systems that would likely involve complex engineering work and the addition of new equipment such as fans and motors to pull air through the much thicker filters.
Lt. Gov. Kathy Hochul thanked mall owners, tenants, and shoppers for their patience during a visit to Seneca One Wednesday, but urged caution.
She pointed to other states that reopened malls and gyms earlier in the pandemic and saw infection rates rise.
“We’re going to get it right here,” she said.