Although we are closing in on a full year living with the COVID-19 pandemic, protocols for stopping its spread are, unfortunately, still insufficient.
In Canada, for instance, despite increasingly strong admonitions from the scientific community that COVID is spread chiefly through airborne particles known as aerosols, public health officials have been slow to recommend the measures that can make a real difference in stemming COVID’s spread.
In an open letter released last week, more than 500 scientists, physicians, engineers and nursing experts implored Canadian leaders to emphasize mitigating the airborne threat in reopening guidelines, including mandatory ventilation upgrades and stricter standards for public buildings and businesses.
“Experts warn that future respiratory viral pandemics are likely,” the letter warns. “Investing in ventilation, indoor air quality and appropriate personal protective equipment now will save lives and prevent economic hardships in the future.”
Addressing aerosol transmission of COVID-19
Patrick O’Neill, President of mCloud Technologies North America, explained the challenges that society has with accepting what needs to be done on this front.
“People have been advocating for addressing aerosols since the very beginning of the pandemic,” Patrick said. “The catch is that aerosol transmission is the toughest transmission mechanism to deal with. On an individual and business level, it is by far the most disruptive and costliest mechanism to mitigate effectively.”
Another hurdle, he added, comes from the difficulty in balancing action with economic consequences.
“There is a spectrum of approaches to mitigation that have corresponding health and financial tradeoffs,” Patrick said. “Public health officials have been given the almost impossible task of finding the right place on the spectrum to balance these tradeoffs to mitigate economic impacts, while simultaneously maximizing safety and health.”
Monitoring Indoor Air Quality to mitigate the spread of COVID and other pathogens
mCloud has worked to have people understand these challenges including holding an expert panel at our annual conference, mCloud Connect, on how dedicated IAQ monitoring can help mitigate COVID-19 and other pathogens.
One of the experts featured was Dr. Mark Ereth, professor emeritus of the Mayo Clinic and Chief Medical Officer at SecureAire. Mark is an expert on removing airborne chemical compounds, particles and pathogens to create ideal hospital cleanroom environments, techniques that form part of the basis of mCloud’s and SecureAire’s joint indoor air quality monitoring solution.
Mark speculated that the reason both Canada and the U.S. have been slow to adopt meaningful aerosol transmission protocols stems from a shared desire to feel like society is actively doing something, which perhaps explains why there was so much initial focus on sanitizing surfaces which most scientists now agree is a low probability of transmission.
“It’s hard for us to think about airborne because we can’t do much about it in many ways,” Dr. Ereth said. “I can put sanitizer on my hands and we’re all fooled by the fact that we can do something.”
Mark explained that people would rather be active – even in less productive ways – rather than rely on invisible techniques that battle an invisible foe. In a relatable example, he said people are far more likely to worry about cleaning up a sneeze if they get it on the mirror and can visibly see the droplets.
Indoor Air Quality will continue to be important post-COVID
Even with a vaccine on the way, Mark stressed that mCloud’s advocacy for indoor air quality will continue to be important in the post-COVID era.
“Yes, we’re all aware of COVID-19 today, but what about COVID-25? What about COVID-29? And what about our normal influenzas that we think about, or air pollution?” Dr. Ereth said. “We’re focused on COVID-19 today, but remember, we want to have air security throughout the year and our lifetime, far beyond this pandemic.”
The key to this security, Mark said, will be technologies that can condition, collect and kill the ultra-fine viral particles, nuclei and other airborne elements that threaten us. The road forward for air security is in the exact technologies that the scientists are seeking through their open letter – improved ventilation and filtering, indoor air quality monitoring through sensors and active cleaning. Investing in these approaches now will not only bring a swifter end to the current pandemic, but better prepare us for the public health challenges of tomorrow.