Opinion: There is more that can be done to fight COVID

We shouldn’t have to choose between blocking and “letting it break.”

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It’s July and more people I know seem to be getting COVID than at any time since the Omicron wave in January. Both the sewerage data and the hospital admissions data show that it seems that we are on the verge of the first wave of summer since 2020, coinciding with the first summer in which all measures have effectively been eliminated, leaving those who must take transport public or work with the public. at the mercy of luck and, if they wish, one-way masking.

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Much of the problem is that our politicians and officials exhort us to “live with the virus” without making the investment necessary for us to do so safely. For those of us who have followed the science during this pandemic, this has been a frustrating experience. There are engineering innovations that could help us live more normally and safely, if only the necessary infrastructure investment were made.

China first warned the world that COVID was in the air in early 2020. The West took longer to catch on, but by the end of 2021 scientists everywhere they were largely in agreement. Public Health has been slow to react, and governments slower, after putting all their eggs in the vaccination basket. Vaccination was a necessary but not sufficient public health intervention to ease the strain on our hospital system and mitigate the severity of the disease, but it does less than we all hoped to minimize transmission.

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Once a person is aware that COVID spreads like smoke and not spit, their mental model can better assess risk. Would you like to spend time in a small, stuffy room six feet away from someone smoking a cigarette? Would you feel safer six feet apart in a park?

But the most powerful solutions enabled by this knowledge remain locked up in the hands of politicians who seem to want us to pretend the pandemic is over. Building codes can be updated to require appropriate indoor air quality standards (an investment that would improve our health and well-being, even if COVID didn’t exist). Owners will not make these investments on their own. Why would they? It is a cost with little benefit for them, only for society. ASHRAE publishes air quality standards that are rarely met in anything other than new construction. (In Quebec, our government tells us that CO2 is fine in schools as long as the average, including overnight idling, is one and a half times worse than professional engineers suggest.)

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Scientists have tested upper-room ultraviolet germicidal irradiation (UVGI), where the top of a room is flooded with ultraviolet light in a way that it doesn’t emit toward the bottom of the room. UV light can kill viruses in seconds, and exposing just the top of a room prevents people from being exposed. This could be a powerful intervention in places where people gather without a mask, such as restaurants or nightclubs.

Far UVC is another promising area of ​​research, using a spectrum of UV light that kills viruses without harming humans and could provide similar benefits in locations that don’t have ceiling space for UVGI in the room above.

Finally, portable air cleaning devices like HEPA filters or the cheaper DIY equivalents known as Corsi-Rosenthal boxes can safely improve air quality in the short term.

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What all of these risk mitigation measures have in common is that they would not require lockdowns or changes in personal behavior. What they require are regulatory changes and investment in infrastructure.

In the short term, taking personal responsibility and wearing a mask (ideally N95 or equivalent) remains a key way to protect yourself. In the long run, it seems likely that we will have diseases until we demand something better. As a society, we shouldn’t have to choose between lockdowns and “let it break.”

Dave MacFarlane is a software developer working on brain imaging. He lives in Montreal.

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