by Jonathon Kitson
Tuesday, 9
February 2021
Idea
08:15

Advice should focus on ventilation, not cleaning surfaces

The Government advice on making businesses Covid secure is out of date
by Jonathon Kitson
There is little evidence of fomite transmission (catching the virus by touching)

How do you catch Covid? A simple but crucial question: if you know how the virus spreads you can take measures to avoid catching it. This is the underlying logic behind the Government’s public messaging campaign, as well as the rules under which businesses have to operate, when the lockdowns eventually end. But what if the measures emphasised by the Government neglect the scientific consensus on how the virus actually spreads?

Unfortunately, this is currently the case. The consensus is that covid is mainly spread through the air through droplets and aerosols, and you catch the virus by breathing it in: with over 100 million cases worldwide there is little evidence of fomite transmission (catching the virus by touching). But the Government’s current advice for businesses (and the public) almost ignores those facts.

Businesses rely on the Government for guidance on how to comply with health and safety rules. But the risk assessment the Government advises businesses to complete to help protect people from the spread doesn’t mention lack of ventilation as a hazard until the 12th page. The Health and Safety Executive’s web page on ventilation again emphasises the importance of cleanliness and hand-washing. Nearly a year into the pandemic, with solid evidence that fomite transmission isn’t the main route for transmission there is no excuse for not having better advice. Any private business issuing guidance with such incorrect messaging, in the current state of scientific knowledge, would risk liability for negligence.

A reset is needed. Rather than adding piecemeal advice which doesn’t have a coherent understanding of how the virus spreads, the Health and Safety Executive should sit down and do a wholesale review for businesses before lockdowns are lifted. Ideally, this should look at best practice from around the world (think Japan, Taiwan, Hong Kong) and potentially with scientists from around the world who are not currently advising the Government through SAGE. In the meantime, sensible business owners who want to protect their business, their employees and their customers can take plenty of cost-effective steps now to stop the virus spreading.

What would this look like in practice? Mask wearing plus ventilation (opening windows and doors) is a vastly more effective way to reduce risk than cleaning surfaces and hand washing. You might not be seeing visors on members of staff, but you might be seeing air purifiers in shops with few windows (paid for in part by the Government), and in those premises which have air conditioning, high-efficiency particulate air (HEPA) filters can be installed. Staff would be educated about ventilation, and told to check carbon dioxide monitors to see how well ventilated the room they are in is, rather than spending quite so much time sanitising surfaces.

Even though the UK is leaving its neighbours in Europe in the rear-view mirror when it comes to vaccination, the plan is still to be easing lockdowns before the adult population is fully vaccinated. The tens of millions of Britons who are yet to receive a vaccine deserve effective measures to help prevent them from catching the virus.

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LUKE LOZE
LUKE LOZE
1 year ago

We’ve known this since pretty much day one, sadly the government and

bureaucracies will rarely admit to being wrong.

“Hands, Face, Space” is in completely the wrong order – and space should be the less catchy “Avoid enclosed crowded places and give people space”.

Mask wearing just doesn’t seem to have had any meaningful effect on case rates – it would be nice if they did.

Handwashing we should just do anyway.

Telling people to wash their hands and stick on a mask is giving them a false sense of security.

Johnny Sutherland
Johnny Sutherland
1 year ago
Reply to  LUKE LOZE

Masking wearing just doesn’t seem to have had any meaningful effect on case rates

If true (and I think it is) that would imply aerosol rather than droplet. Aerosol would also explain why massed gatherings (eg the beach, BLM protests) didn’t seem to kick the rate up.

LUKE LOZE
LUKE LOZE
1 year ago

My guess is that masks probably do provide a benefit in terms of stopping an individual spreading a virus to others close by.

However I’d also guess that mask wearing makes people feel safer and more likely to get closer to others, or go out shopping more etc.

M Spahn
M Spahn
1 year ago

This has been a big problem. They are happy to set every warning dial to “10” but unwilling to ever dial anything back, regardless of what new information emerges.

isobel
isobel
1 year ago

Yes it was evident from last january that this was an airborne respiratory virus. It was tantamount to genocide to mislead people into believing they’d be safe if they kept washing their hands, then let them travel on the Tube with no face masks. That so many people caught it at places like the Cheltenham festival – that they all touched the same surface then put their put their finger up their nose and inhaled – just fantasy. There was never any evidence to suggest it was anything other than being transmitted via the air. Yet thousands believed hand-washing would keep them safe and will have died as a result. If the government were to change the messaging now, it would be to admit that they were wrong and caused needless deaths.

LUKE LOZE
LUKE LOZE
1 year ago
Reply to  isobel

I’d add to that the lack of focus on protecting the high at risk groups (mainly the over 70s). The complete sacrifice of care homes, putting positve patients in close proximity to the highest risk groups in the country.
I think that’ll make the misguided focus on hand washing look minor in comparison.
I’m half convinved the government spin machine will keep the Covid circus going long enough so that they’re all retired or have their stories staight by the time an inquiry comes along.

Gwynneth Coan
Gwynneth Coan
1 year ago

One of the reasons I “retired” a bit earlier was I could not bear to work any longer in hermetically sealed offices. For approximately 10 months I was put on the front desk and was never happier with an open door, plus healthier. I must have been too happy as I was moved back into the airless area and that did it for me.

Johnny Sutherland
Johnny Sutherland
1 year ago

Please do not use the phrase “scientific consensus”. It does not matter how many pat each other on the head if they are not correct.

What you’re saying is that they don’t KNOW but most are guessing the same thing.

The consensus is that covid is mainly spread through the air through droplets and aerosols,

Which? It matters because the masks commonly in use will stop droplets but not aerosols so until the “consensus ” we still don’t really know what to do.

Ian Perkins
Ian Perkins
1 year ago

“masks commonly in use will stop droplets but not aerosols so … we still don’t really know what to do.”
Why not? If masks catch half the virus in the air, that helps.

gwoods20
gwoods20
1 year ago

You say that the “consensus” is that COVID 19 is mainly spread through the air via droplets and aerosols, which I can readily believe, but the link you provide is to a single, non-peer reviewed, paper from April 2020, which may as well be a hundred years old. Have you come across any other, more recent and peer-reviewed, papers on transmission modes?

Ian Perkins
Ian Perkins
1 year ago
Reply to  gwoods20

Not exactly what you asked for, but try:
Coronavirus is in the air ” there’s too much focus on surfaces (Nature editorial 21-02-02)
COVID-19 rarely spreads through surfaces. So why are we still deep cleaning (Nature 21-01-29)

Sheryl Rhodes
Sheryl Rhodes
1 year ago
Reply to  gwoods20

Sorry I don’t have links but I read about a well-publicized study from several months ago that looked at transmission in an office setting. Typical high-rise office with a central bank of elevators/utilities, and offices arrayed all around the perimeter of the building. An infected person with desk on one side of the bank infected many others nearby on that side, and a few on the other side of the central bank. This study showed airborne transmission pretty clearly, and in addition showed how unlikely surface transmission was. Despite the fact that all of these infected people were unknowingly touching many common surfaces such as doors and elevator buttons, no one seems to have contracted the disease that way–folks on other floors didn’t get sick.

Then just yesterday I read a paper that examined transmission on a naval base in the US in December 2020. The base practiced hyper-vigilance against covid so follow-up was thorough. Three people came down with the virus. Two were roommates. Each person had a job that entailed handling objects and then immediately exchanging those objects with other personnel; nevertheless, none of the hundreds of other people who were handed objects directly from the hands of infected people got sick.

Andrew Thompson
Andrew Thompson
1 year ago

I always worried that with the droplets being relatively heavy they will (albeit slowly) drift towards the ground/flat surfaces; my concern being if you open all the windows and doors any draught is going to keep those droplets airborne, dancing around everyone at head height and heading towards a nostril near you?

Dave H
Dave H
1 year ago

If you have decent airflow the droplets are going to flow right on out of there. If you do not, the evidence is that they can hang around for hours.

Your concern is the wrong way round.

Sheryl Rhodes
Sheryl Rhodes
1 year ago
Reply to  Dave H

From what I have read so far, ventilation is meant to both eliminate particles from an enclosed space (through filtration or through moving them along to another space, preferably outdoors) and also to dissipate the “cloud” of virus particles after they are exhaled by an infected person. Breathing in a given volume of air with a few virus particles isn’t likely to infect; it’s the accumulation of virus in the nose/throat to a critical point that is the most dangerous.

I read a valuable article recently about strategies to follow if you do come down with this disease. The doctor who wrote it recommended, among other things such as immediately using zinc lozenges, that the patient should isolate in a place with as much ventilation as possible. For instance, open all windows as much as you possibly can, because it’s still beneficial for an infected person to not re-breathe/inhale the viruses that are busy multiplying in their nose and throat. This advice seems sensible and also in the category of “couldn’t hurt to try it.”

Neil John
Neil John
1 year ago

So many modern buildings are effectively sealed and air conditioned, and for all the claims HEPA filters will stop the virus they will only do so if properly maintained, the current guidance is 10 L per second per person of clean/fresh airflow inflow is also hard to achieve in many buildings. Aerosols however don’t just infect via inhalation into the respiratory tract, your eye’s are also vulnerable to viral entry which then washes down into the nose and throat. Our Chinese students knew this and wore both high grade respirators and gas tight goggles, along with Tyvek hooded suits, when they arrived from China last year.

Peter KE
Peter KE
1 year ago

SAGE, PHE, DHSC, NHS Providers are all a waste of money and an enormous distraction. They should be shutdown and sacked, their advice ignored.

Stephen Follows
Stephen Follows
1 year ago

Is it even worth writing articles about a disease which 99.5% of the population will either survive or never catch in the first place? Surely there’s something more worthwhile you could do with your time.