We have heard most of the advice for avoiding coronavirus for now.
For a quick refresher, they are (according to the WHO):
Wash your hands frequently
Practice social distancing
Avoid touching your eyes, nose, and mouth
Practice respiratory hygiene (aka sneeze into your elbow, throw away your tissues right away, etc)
If you have fever, cough and difficulty breathing, seek medical care immediately
That last point, though. That one is maybe as important as the others combined. The reason: coronavirus news is constantly evolving.
One piece of advice that has been largely under-discussed recently, for example, is the fact that the above guidelines are based on the evidence that the virus is transmitted through the droplets that come out when we cough and sneeze. That’s why we’re advised to be careful about social contact and to wash our hands.
The New Information
But there is increasing evidence that coronavirus is also transmitted in through the air. A recent study has shown that it is possible that the coronavirus is more like SARS in how it is transmitted: that is, as an “aerosol.” This means that the virus can survive in the air for a number of hours.
This translates to something that needs to be considered in addition to the guidelines above: how are we dealing with the very air we breathe?
For example, in recent cases aboard cruise ships, it was speculated that the reason people may have been infected despite being quarantined to their rooms was that the very systems set up to control air flow in the ships (known as HVAC: heating, ventilation, and air conditioning) may have passed the virus around the ships. In other words, it is possible that even quarantine was not enough to stop the transmission of the virus.
As Stephen Morse, PhD, of Columbia University Mailman School of Public Health, recently said in an interview, “In theory, if you have a HVAC system that picks up air somewhere upstream and carries it downstream and you don’t have HEPA (high-efficiency particulate air) filters, which would filter out particles well … it’s not out of the question.”
The question now stands before us: what do we do if this is the case? If HVAC systems, used in buildings like apartments where hundreds may be living, can transmit the virus, there will need to be a much more robust answer to the virus until a vaccine is created.
Ventilation And Filtration
There is a simple answer to this, in fact. Unfortunately, we are used to thinking that buildings must be sealed off from the outside and incoming air well controlled, because we assume that we are protecting ourselves from pollution. Often, the opposite is the case: air pollution inside of homes can be 2 to 5 times worse than the outdoors. And this has nothing to do with airborne viruses:It’s due to us cooking, building materials, that are off-gassing, lighting scent candles or even just cleaning our rugs.
The issue with existing HVAC systems is that they don’t have systems in place, or have very weak systems in place, to capture indoor air pollutants – more specifically, dangerous things like airborne viruses. A big part of an HVAC system is laid out to recirculate indoor air and thus enable exchanges of air between different parts of the building
The result: if you live in a building with such a system,even if you stayed in your apartment or condo with the door shut, it’s possible that air from another part of the building is being pushed into yours and with it dangerous pollutants like viruses.
The answer, then, is twofold.
First, shut off recirculating HVAC systems and use natural ventilation or only rely on the fresh air intake part of HVAC systems. Even opening a window can make a massive difference in helping your home be less polluted both by pollution itself and airborne dangers like viruses.
Second, filtration. Specifically, HEPA filtration.
A recent New York Times op-ed by two Harvard professors discussed this very issue. Here was their conclusion: “In my team’s recent work, just submitted for peer review, we found that for measles, a disease dominated by airborne transmission, a significant risk reduction can be achieved by increasing ventilation rates and enhancing filtration levels.”
Their recommendation for buildings that don’t have proper HVAC filtration?
“For buildings without mechanical ventilation systems, or if you want to supplement your building’s system in high-risk areas, portable air purifiers can also be effective at controlling airborne particle concentrations. Most quality portable air purifiers use HEPA filters, which capture 99.97 percent of particles.”
It is this very reason that led our company to develop air purifiers: when our founders visited China, they were overwhelmed by the dangers of the pollution in the cities and decided to develop high quality air purifiers to deal with the problem. Using HEPA filtration as well as new technologies like activated charcoal, they developed air purifiers made to address these very issues, including a medical grade one.
One of the missions we’ve had since launching this company, then, has been to help people understand the very urgent danger of unfiltered air. This is, of course, not limited to viruses.
As much as we concern ourselves with things like our nutritional health and exercise, for some reason the quality of our air has not been taken quite as seriously.
Perhaps that is changing now. It is heartbreaking to see it happen in such a fashion, but we hope that the reality of air quality, whether it be through air purifiers or other means, will be taken more seriously. It could save lives.