It took the World Health Organization nearly a year, but they eventually caved in to mounting scientific evidence and admitted in May of this year that the SARS-CoV2 virus doesn’t just travel 1.5 meters through the air and then sink to the floor as they had mistakenly believed. The virus becomes airborne and is capable of traveling great distances.
Like McGuyver, the Covid virus can find its way through air ducts and tight spaces, infecting people in adjacent rooms, as hotels used for quarantining people have discovered. The poliovirus is capable of a similar feat and it has to do with the size of the airborne particles. They’re small, really small, and can stay aloft for hours in the right conditions.
It turns out that one of our best defenses against infection from airborne particles is a very simple one. Fresh air and its ability to vent through a building or vehicle or any confined space. Clear the contaminated air and replace it with untainted air, preferably good old-fashioned outdoor fresh air. Our societies, however, have other plans.
I’ve been sweating out the pandemic in the Philippines, quite literally. The country is poor and the government has been understandably paranoid about the virus gaining a foothold here in the tropical climate. With a population of over 120 million, most in rural locations spread over more than 700 islands, the consequences would be devastating.
The result has been an extended and ongoing Extended General Quarantine across the islands. Children here haven’t seen the inside of a classroom since March of 2020. Masks and face shields are mandated, you cannot leave home without them and to add another layer of well-intentioned protection, plastic has been introduced almost everywhere.
Every building, every public transport vehicle, and every shop or bank features screens constructed out of thick plastic, separating either staff or members of the public from each other. The result is the creation of isolated small hotboxes surrounded by a plastic shield that proves impenetrable to even a determined hurricane.
The normal circulation of air stands no chance.
The result is obvious. Have an infected person breathing in these spaces and the virus has multiple targets to focus on. It’s a little like shooting stranded ducks in a gallery. Without a free flow of fresh air to expel it, the SARS-CoV2 virus can take its time selecting new hosts.
All of this matters, as one of our most effective tools to combatting transmission, maybe the simplest of all. Cracking a window. In fact, there’s now a valid reason to open all of them, particularly in close-quarter environments like classrooms.
This is one of the reasons densely populated cities like Manila (the Philippines capital) are suffering under the brunt of the Delta variant whilst the rural areas in the country remain mostly untouched by the pandemic. The ability of fresh air to move freely.
If your weather permits and even if it really doesnt, make sure you have windows open. The introduction of fresh outdoor air is most definitely one of our most potent weapons in the fight to reduce transmission. Air conditioners don’t offer any protection. Recycled air is often simply recycling the virus as most air filtration units are not designed to catch particles as small as the SARS-CoV virus.
This is true in most buildings, and even in hospitals. Equipment designed to filter out such small particles remains very expensive and has never previously been considered a priority. Poor air quality and circulation is a notorious cause of illness in large buildings, we even have a name for it, sick building syndrome.
Add the virus to the mix and you can see why opening a window, although not environmentally friendly in an air-conditioned environment, may be your best health move.