Many people are anxious to return to what life was like before the coronavirus pandemic. But there is no reason to rush back in a way that would risk lives, particularly those in vulnerable populations. That has left businesses and people looking for ways to ensure that they can get back to normal in the safest way possible — some way to signify that every precaution has been taken and people won’t be at risk of catching or spreading the virus. Enter the WELL Health-Safety seal.
You might have seen your favorite influencer or celebrity talk up the WELL Health-Safety seal. The idea behind it is pretty simple: if you see the symbol outside of a school, business, office building, or any other space, you can trust that the space is safe. However, the fact that the seal seemingly came out of nowhere and little is known about it has created a sense of skepticism. What is this seal, exactly, and can it be trusted to keep you safe — or is it simply a celebrity-backed scam?
What the WELL Health-Safety seal promises
Let’s say you walk up to a building and see the WELL Health-Safety seal. What exactly is it supposed to tell you? According to the International WELL Building Institute, which developed the seal, the WELL Health-Safety seal is designed to convey that the facility is meeting a minimum set of requirements to provide a safe environment for the public.
The International WELL Building Institute claims to have talked with more than 600 experts to come up with a list of criteria that every building should aim to achieve to operate safely in the aftermath of the coronavirus pandemic. It claims to look for 20 different metrics and requires any building operator to meet at least 15 of those requirements before providing the seal. Some of the metrics include assessing the ventilation and air treatment systems, ensuring that a qualified engineer is on staff, and installing particle filters.
The overall message the Institute wanted the WELL Health-Safety seal to convey is that the building is being operated in a way that should limit the potential for exposure to the coronavirus.
The celebrity aspect
While the International WELL Building Institute says that it has sought expert advice from public health officials, virologists, architects, and designers, much more attention has been drawn to the safety seal by celebrity endorsers. Jennifer Lopez, Michael B. Jordan, Lady Gaga, Deepak Chopra, Robert De Niro, and others have all lent their credibility to this seal as ambassadors.
This was by design. Tony Antolino, the chief marketing officer at the International WELL Building Institue’s parent company, told Ad Age that they wanted to raise awareness for the seal through a public service announcement-style campaign. It helps that there have already been several major corporations and institutions to seek out the seal. JPMorgan, the Dallas Cowboys, and even the National Institute of Environmental Health Sciences have passed the test and gotten the seal.
Should you trust the seal?
It’s entirely legitimate to feel skeptical about this seal. It does appear that the International WELL Building Institute has consulted with actual experts and has put some science behind the process. And in general, it’s a good idea to establish a set of standards for ensuring the safety of buildings as people start returning to life.
But, the WELL Health-Safety seal can only go so far. It largely bases its assessment on written policies and protocols for each facility rather than a thorough inspection or review. It also only has to be issued once every year, and there doesn’t seem to be much in terms of an enforcement method for making sure a building stays up to standard in the meantime. So while the seal can provide a nice visual assurance that the building operators care about specific protocols, don’t assume that you can fully let your guard down — it can’t guarantee your safety.