Up to the start of the COVID-19 pandemic, climate change and its effect on mankind was the most threatening to upend life. At world forums, the need to conserve energy was prioritized and foremost on the agenda of problems faced by the world. The need for energy efficient buildings, hotels, hospitals has been the focus for the past few decades, cutting household consumption by designing homes to keep air trapped inside, cool air in the summer and warm air in the winter was the way forward.
Today, this has come to hit us in the rear, these very same energy efficient indoor spaces, have now become COVID traps.
WARNING: are we now living in poorly ventilated COVID pits?
This is uncomfortably close to the truth as evidence of the spread of the SARS-CoV-2 virus is building momentum and authorities now need to take regulatory measures to make the environment a safe space to work and live.
The SARS-CoV-2, the virus that causes COVID is spread through larger particles called droplets and smaller particles called aerosols. Aerosol droplets being lighter in weight stay suspended in the air for a longer time. When these particles flow in the airspace or reach surfaces, they contaminate. If these contaminated spaces or surfaces are touched or breathed into, you will contract COVID-19. Whether you are fully vaccinated or not, you will contract the virus, how ill you will get will depend on your immunity and comorbidities.
The absolute is, COVID-19 is transferred through airborne aerosol droplets that can hang around suspended in the air for hours if the airflow of a space is poor or the space is not ventilated. The amount of potentially infected air circulating depends on the density of people in that closed environment.
So what are we looking for in terms safety in our homes, offices, recreation spaces in today’s world?
Formally homes were built to be insulated and to keep away draughts.
Windows in hotels and office buildings were airtight to prevent accidents are now a bad idea for ventilation and need second thought.
We now need to adapt to conditions of ventilation and circulation and build a space that will conserve energy and air when needed but can be also ventilated quickly and easily. It’s a significant issue that needs thought, with these new conditions in mind.
Enough said about the future, lets talk about the existing buildings and homes and what we can do to protect ourselves?
Steps beyond just opening a window—
- Portable carbon monoxide monitors give you a rough idea of how the air is circulating in your home. If the monitor detects high levels of carbon dioxide in your home, it indicates poor airflow.
- An air purifier can improve ventilation; make sure you get one, which is fitted with High-Efficiency Particulate Air (HEPA) filters, these clear 99% of aerosols from a room in approximately five minutes. However, this is dependent on the airflow capacity, the configuration of the room, the number of people present and the positioning of the filter. The air purifier has models which are cheap on the pocket too, but the HEPA filter is important, otherwise not worth it.
- When hosting visitors inside the office or at home, open as many doors and windows as possible, minimize indoor spread by restraining number of guests, seating at a safe distance and definitely wearing of masks. It takes just that one asymptomatic COVID positive person to infect a whole room of people.
- Setting your air conditioner to pull in fresh air from outside— the setting should be to pull in 100% fresh air from outside and not just recirculate indoor air. There is also a setting that allow your air conditioning or heating system to increase air change per hour, this means that it can reduce the time it takes for all the air to be replaced with fresh air.
- Use of fans — fans are excellent to circulate air, just make sure they are positioned in the direction where fresh air is pulled into the room and not just recirculating existing air.
- Servicing of your air conditioners more often than you used to pre COVID and have the settings changed from 40 liters/second to 60 liters/second per person of recycled air.
- An extra word of caution when visiting ‘Hot Zones’, spaces housing COVID-positive patients such as; hospitals, aged care, hotel quarantine, The WHO recommends these places to have 80 liters/ second per person of recycled air. Even travelling in public transport that is air conditioned, remember to open the air vents above you or open all windows around you, in fact I have a personal air purifier you wear around your neck like a necklace, this purifies the air around you for up to three feet, wear a mask along with this for maximum protection.
The future is uncertain and impossible to plan, we must accept and correct as we go along, the risk of breathing COVID-19 is twenty times higher indoors than outdoors and can move from low risk to high risk in a matter of fifteen minutes.
Evidence also proves that outdoors and open spaces, where air flows freely is harder for the virus to be transmitted.
Reducing the occupancy of buildings, limiting certain activities, setting indoor air standards and improving ventilation and filtration in buildings is also important.
Vaccines alone cannot end this; they need the support of a parallel prevention plan to stop the spread of Covid-19 and its mitigation of variants, ventilation of indoor spaces will be needed to end the pandemic alongside mass vaccination programmes.
Environmental Expert — Hegarty says; “Tackling air quality indoors is key to fighting the spread of the virus. The majority of Covid-19 transmission occurs as a result of people inhaling infected air, after virus particles “build up” and “fill a space” in indoor settings over a number of hours. Viral particles in the air behave like smoke and must be cleared out.
Prevention is about managing people and managing air.
Prevention is needed. VENTILATE, VENTILATE, VENTILATE.