Let the air in to keep illnesses out

Jeff Kuhr

Pandemic. Coronavirus. Face covering. You’ve probably heard more about these terms in the past six months than ever before. You might be growing tired of them. But the virus that causes COVID-19 isn’t gone from the United States, Colorado or Mesa County. Let’s add two more things to the list of terms we’re using these days that a few months ago weren’t commonplace outside epidemiology — aerosols and airborne transmission.

Aerosols refer to tiny particles or droplets distributed through the air. There’s a lot we still don’t know about how COVID-19 spreads. But understanding how an illness is transmitted can help businesses ensure they’re doing everything possible to protect employees, customers and the community.

According to the latest information from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, COVID-19 is thought to spread mainly through person-to-person close contact, through respiratory droplets produced when an infected person coughs, sneezes or talks. These droplets can land in the mouths or noses of people who are nearby or possibly be inhaled into the lungs. Some people without symptoms also could be able to spread the virus. While we’re still learning about how the virus spreads and the severity of illness it causes, we know the virus spreads easily between people. Just how easily can vary depending on the situation. In general, the more closely a person interacts with others and the longer that interaction, the higher the risk of COVID-19 spread.

There are multiple kinds of airborne transmission. Measles spreads by direct contact with infectious droplets or can become airborne when an infected person breathes, coughs or sneezes. The measles virus can remain infectious in the air for up to two hours after an infected person leaves the area. While not the most common transmission, other viruses transmit through tiny particles in the air. Hantavirus is one example. People become infected with hantavirus when infected rodents — usually deer mice — shed the virus in their urine, droppings and saliva. Hantavirus is transmitted to humans when we breathe air contaminated with the virus by sweeping or stirring up areas with droppings or nesting materials.

As we continue to learn about COVID-19 and additional ways it could spread, businesses can examine their ventilation systems and take action to increase airflow. A report examining airflow in classrooms recommended replacing air with clean air between four to six times an hour to dilute virus particles that might accumulate. One school district in Colorado Springs recently delayed the start of in-person learning a week because of issues with school ventilation systems.

Ventilation is about the exchange of outside air into a building on a frequent basis to refresh the air. Things like opening windows and doors are effective ways to accomplish this. Filtration systems can help — especially on days like we’ve experienced recently when air quality is poor and bringing in outside air also creates irritation. Generally, you don’t need major upgrades or new systems to achieve the desired results.

Fall temperatures provide a great opportunity to let the air in and reduce the spread of illnesses indoors.

As we continue to learn about how COVID-19 affects communities and how it spreads, there are proven methods to stop the spread of illness. Mesa County’s reopening plan requires individual responsibility from residents to maintain 6 feet of social distance, cover noses and mouths indoors and whenever physical distancing isn’t possible, wash hands often, stay home when sick and get tested if symptoms appear.

Thanks for helping us.