On a referral from Federal Health and Aged Care Minister Mark Butler, Parliament has recently completed an inquiry into prevention of long COVID. The condition has come into greater focus as research has progressed, with 5-14% of people with COVID now showing symptoms more than three months post-infection.
The inquiry discussed the impact of vaccines and retroviral drugs, but the most creative submissions related to getting more ventilation in public spaces.
Expert submissions noted that there is almost no risk of contracting COVID outdoors. It is the accumulation in the air of small particles ejected from deep in the lungs when speaking and breathing – as opposed to large particles from the mouth – that is responsible for COVID transmission.
This means that mechanical ventilation of our indoor spaces can make a major difference at reducing the COVID load.
“The cost of installing this equipment should not be seen as a luxury,” said Karen Armstrong of COVID Safe Schools Inc. “Air monitoring and filtration equipment should be seen as being as necessary as smoke alarms and fire extinguishers in public buildings.”
Victorian schools currently have HEPA filters as mandatory in classrooms. However, in practice plans for natural ventilation have fallen down in the face of hot or cold weather. Thus, the push for mechanical ventilation.
One epidemiologist shared the results of a study on COVID transmission in schools in Italy. Comparing 316 schools equipped for mechanical ventilation to 10,000 other schools in the same region in central Italy, the study found an 80% reduction in infections in ventilated classrooms.
A similar finding was noted for a study in Germany. “The findings can be applied to any buildings which are occupied by many people for extended period,” said the researcher.
In that vein, Belgium has recently required all public spaces to have a ventilation plan and monitor and display carbon dioxide levels (as a proxy for human breath…). Their windows on buses and trams are kept permanently open.
The inquiry’s results foreshadow the Health Minister making changes to the National Construction Code. Changes can be expected in regulated spaces like schools, aged-care and day-care centres, pharmacies, libraries and community centres, operating, in the words of one inquiry submission, “the same way we have food safety standards that prevent the transmission of diseases such as gastroenteritis.”
For more information and resources, visit the website of COVID Safe Schools Inc.
Images courtesy of @ronan18 via Unsplash.
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