In the attempt to subdue COVID-19, one of the biggest advances has been the realization that it spreads not by relatively heavy exhaled droplets that travel less than six feet, but by aerosol dispersion, which means it can fly through the air with the greatest of ease, and land just about anywhere. In May, the World Health Organization, in one of the quietest revolutions ever, adopted the aerosol theory. As Dr. Zeynep Tufekci, co-author of the Lancet article, “Why Did It Take So Long to Accept the Facts About Covid?” phrased it,
A few sentences have shaken a century of science… The change didn’t get a lot of attention. There was no news conference, no big announcement.
Then, on Friday, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention also updated its guidance on Covid-19, clearly saying that inhalation of these smaller particles is a key way the virus is transmitted, even at close range, and put it on top of its list of how the disease spreads.
With an earlier acceptance of the importance of aerosol transmission, the course of events might have been very different. Dr. Tufekci says, “We would have tried to make sure indoor spaces were well ventilated, with air filtered as necessary.” A lot more attention would have been paid to ventilation and airflow, and on moving activities outdoors whenever possible. The persistent misunderstanding has also accounted for a massive amount of public expenditure on measures that are minimally useful. Dr. Tufekci writes,
In India, where hospitals have run out of supplemental oxygen and people are dying in the streets, money is being spent on fleets of drones to spray anti-coronavirus disinfectant in outdoor spaces. Parks, beaches and outdoor areas keep getting closed around the world.
People are probably soaking up tons of chemicals that do them no benefit, and do the coronavirus no harm. And of course, a fortune has been spent on tons of plexiglass, with numerous schools, libraries, and other indoor spaces being partitioned off with clear acrylic sheets when what is needed is exactly the opposite, the free movement of air from outside.
A paper published earlier this month confirmed with even more finality that “fine aerosols constituted 85% of the viral load detected,” and although good masks can block maybe 95% of aerosols, more is needed. Especially when not everybody can afford, or be persuaded to properly wear and maintain, good masks.
A report about the “Reopen and Rebuild America’s School Act of 2021” begins by admitting that many of the country’s public school buildings are outdated, hazardous, and even crumbling. A year ago, a Government Accountability Act report specified that around 36,000 schools across the nation need the heating, ventilation and air conditioning systems repaired or replaced in at least half their buildings. Experts agree that updating the HVAC systems should be part of a layered approach against COVID-19.
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Source: “Why Did It Take So Long to Accept the Facts About Covid?” NYTimes.com, 05/07/21
Source: “Viral Load of SARS-CoV-2 in Respiratory Aerosols Emitted by COVID-19 Patients while Breathing, Talking, and Singing,” NIH.gov, 08/06/21
Source: “The Reopen and Rebuild America’s School Act of 2021,” PTA.org, 2021
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