Indoor Air Quality in the time of Covid-19 2020 Year End Review

Indoor Air Quality in the time of Covid-19 2020 Year End Review 3

2020 has been a year of significant events in America. Our president was impeached. The stock market crashed. Wildfires ravaged parts of the west coast and murder hornets wreaked havoc on honeybee colonies. Civil rights protests continue alongside legal challenges to the results of our national election. And of course, Covid.

Of these trials, none have been more life-changing than Covid-19. The statistics are staggering:

Infections, global: 77,557,000+
Deaths 1,707,000+

Infections, U.S.: 18,058,000+
Deaths 320,000+ (as of 12/23/20) (1)

At various locations around the country, stay-at-home orders and other restrictions on citizens, businesses, and schools are in place due to the highly transmissible nature of this deadly virus. But some workers are expected to work, even during a pandemic. For example, medical personnel, essential office support, and health and wellness employees must be present while their businesses are open. In many areas, students and teachers need to be on school grounds or they risk loss-of-income or instruction. And patients need treatment.

Researchers know that the novel coronavirus is spread through droplets released into the air when an infected person coughs or sneezes. The droplets generally do not travel more than a few feet, and they fall to the ground (or onto surfaces) in a few seconds — this is why physical distancing, staying outdoors, and wearing face coverings are effective in preventing the spread.

Unfortunately, airflow is limited while indoors, and physical distancing is often not possible. And while the virus picks no favorites in whom it afflicts, some occupations are at higher risk than others, simply by the nature of what they do or the buildings they occupy.

Here is an overview of just some of the businesses we have supported during this past year and why they are vulnerable.

HOSPITALS & MEDICAL CENTERS

For centuries, hospitals have worn the mantle of medical care for patients. But their mission to safeguard human life has been severely tested during the coronavirus outbreak as medical facilities are also places where pathogens can linger and spread.

The need for additional measures of protection have never been more important.

Patients and healthcare workers alike benefit from existing healthcare practices such as personal protective equipment and environmental control. But for the most aggressive infectious diseases, like Covid-19, additional measures such as portable air cleaners and negative pressure HEPA machines for patient isolation will make the difference between potentially lethal illness and health. (10)

COLLEGE HOUSING & COMMON AREAS

The U.S. Department of Education lists more than 4,000 academic institutions of higher learning (2) at which nearly 20 million students attend.

In addition to students, at every one of these schools there are hundreds – in some cases thousands – of workers, many of whom commute from other areas, widening the scope of transmissibility. And an alarming number of them are getting sick. With barely a month back at school, there were more than 40,000 cases of Covid-19 reported from campuses across all 50 states. (2a). That was in September. The numbers have more than doubled since that time.

Containing the spread of viruses and other illnesses has always been a challenge on college campuses. Think how colds and flu thrive there – classrooms, residential housing, cafeterias – all of these locations are enclosed spaces that tend to be crowded, often with poor ventilation. Add to that the very nature of college social life – dorm and fraternity parties, clubs and team sporting events, college bars – plus the diminished judgment of many younger people, and germ-sharing becomes communal. Students living in residential housing are particularly vulnerable.

DENTAL OFFICES

The greatest risk of transmission is through aerosolization such as a cough or a sneeze. But in dental offices, germs can also spread during routine procedures and oral surgeries that generate their own aerosols. (3)

Dental aerosols are defined as the splatters, mists, and droplets created from the use of certain dental instruments. These fine sprays and particles include saliva, blood, plaque, and oral debris and can travel distances up to 20 feet. The use of high-speed equipment such as scalers and drills allow pathogens the opportunity to spread rapidly (3a), particularly during surgeries where oral emissions enter the breathing space of dental workers.

FITNESS CENTERS & LOCKER ROOMS

Pre-Covid, the most common thing athletes, coaches, and sports teams worried about in terms of clean air in their locker rooms was primarily focused on odor control. Then there was MRSA.

For nearly a decade, bacterial staph in the form of MRSA (4) plagued athletes from high school all the way up to the pros. But now, coronavirus (4a) poses an even greater threat. For athletic departments and professional sports teams across the nation, maintaining good health presents considerable challenges – ones that professional teams and athletic departments are now trying to conquer.

NURSING HOMES

Presently, there are over 51 million Americans 65 and older in the United States in contrast to the over-195 million adults under age 65. And yet, older Americans make up 55% of all adults at-risk for serious complications if infected with Covid-19. As of December 1st, more than 100,000 US deaths from Covid-19 were linked to 28,000 senior care institutions. (5) While only 5% of the country’s cases have occurred in these types of facilities, nursing home residents represent 38% of Covid-19 deaths. Simply put, if you are an adult over the age of 65 and live in a nursing home or long-term care facility, your chance of becoming infected by Covid-19 and then dying from it, are higher than any other group in the country. Why are these populations more at risk?

Nursing homes – like many medical institutions – have long been breeding grounds for communicable diseases. Consider the communal nature of elder-care facilities. There is frequent physical contact between patients and staff, residents often share rooms, and many of them are shuttled back and forth between hospitals and doctor’s offices where germs run rampant. (5a) And while coronavirus is blind to age per se, it feeds on those with weak or compromised health profiles.

OFFICES

Office environments, like any place where people from different households gather, are potential breeding grounds for germs. Office employees spend the majority of their waking hours during the week inside, sharing space with others. This creates an atmosphere ripe for germ-sharing. Consider the seasonal flu. As we all know, year after year, every American becomes a potential vector for the infection, every surface, a possible hot spot for transmission. If even one doorknob or computer keyboard has a transmissible bug, a virus can infect nearly everyone in that workspace in a matter of hours.

Common areas like meeting and break rooms, waiting areas, and exit and entryways (6) are examples of places where germ transmission is more likely and where social distancing needs to be enforced.

SCHOOLS

Poor indoor air quality in schools has been known to hamper student wellness even before Covid. In addition to communicable infections, pollutants such as molds, dusts, and fumes can negatively impact a student’s wellness, ability to concentrate, and classroom performance. (7)

Schools are vulnerable for a variety of reasons (7a). Schools tend to have more people crowded in smaller spaces and children, even those who are young adults, are inclined to pack together tightly, with little to no thought given to personal space. Think: cafeterias at lunchtime and indoor spectator events viewed from bleachers. Think: crowded hallways and stairwells in between classes. Lastly, minors are more likely to cough and breathe in direct proximity to others and share food, drinks, and personal items.

SPAS AND SALONS

Indoor Air Quality in spa and beauty salons has been a concern since the dawn of their opening. For hair shops, cancer-causing formaldehyde was enemy number one due to the toxic fumes emitted from perms, dyes, and hair-straightening treatments. (8a) For nail salons, it was the VOCs (volatile organic compounds) present in lacquers, adhesives, and polish removers that presented the most serious occupational health risk. (8) While those problems still exist, Covid-19 has become the greater concern.

The spread of infection in spas and salons is heightened because these types of businesses are often smaller, tighter spaces making social distancing difficult. Every spa table, sink, chair, and surface are possible hot spots for transmission. If even one hairbrush or cabinet knob has a communicable microbe, a virus can infect nearly everyone in that shop or salon days before someone shows symptoms.

WHAT TO DO

Obviously, cleaning and disinfecting are crucial. But COVID-19 transmission is more common by way of airborne respiratory droplets, meaning that the biggest risk of viral spread comes from sick people, not from objects. Staying at home is the best way to avoid contact.
But millions of workers, students, and medical patients need to leave their homes. How can one be sure that they are positioned for wellness rather than illness? The answer is clean air.

CDC recommended control measures for improving indoor air quality indicate that “elimination” is the most effective means of reducing transmission of Covid-19 and advocates the use of portable high-efficiency particulate air (HEPA) cleaners as an additional means of reducing viral spread.

Air cleaners with HEPA filtration are designed to draw in polluted air and filter out the impurities. Quality air cleaning and filtration units are proven to reduce airborne contaminants, including particles containing viruses. Portable air cleaners (also known as air purifiers) may be particularly helpful. By itself, air cleaning or filtration is not enough to protect people from exposure to the virus that causes COVID-19. But when used alongside other control methods recommended by the CDC, air filtration can be an effective means of avoiding the spread of illness.

Our air cleaning and purification products not only remove fumes and odors from the source but when paired with our HEPA filtration systems, also remove up to 99.99% of fine particulates floating in the air – keeping both workers and customers breathing clean air and feeling secure. Contact us today for a free estimate with one of our clean air specialists.