As the New Year approaches and we encounter yet another winter facing COVID transmission spikes, I want to offer several additional measures that you and your family can practice at your home, business, church or school starting today in order to reduce the chance that you will contract COVID-19.
One of the first things to highlight is that this is a collective pandemic, not an individual one. Let’s remember the “We” not just the “Me” as decisions are made to enter buildings and homes.
The current high transmission rates of both the Delta and Omicron variants requires creative, more robust ways to educate and remind a weary lay public about additional measures beyond government emphasis on Vaccines and Testing that can help flatten the curve and reduce the chance of transmission. The Government, at every level, needs to step up its game about educating the public.
These more robust measures won’t eliminate COVID, but will help reduce the chances of getting it and spreading it.
My comments stem from several years of professional training related to instructing folks to use safety equipment like masks and finding creative ways to communicate risk, whether it relates to toxic substances, noise or air quality, that can be applied to our current challenge about how to reduce our risk of getting COVID-19.
Here are just some of the other COVID reduction ‘tools in the toolbox’ that you can use when you go to a party, family gathering, office or meeting:
Virus Size: With loose-fitting masks or unmasked persons, virus particles can escape and become airborne and project beyond six feet in an aerosol form when a person laughs, sneezes, coughs or speaks loudly. The virus in aerosol form may get smaller and denser and hang in the air in a supermarket aisle or restaurant bar, possibly for hours if ventilation is poor. This is important to keep in mind when deciding what type of mask and how to reduce transmission. The main goal is to stop air leaks in or out.
Mask Messaging: The type of mask you wear and how you wear it and maintain it will make all the difference. I agree with health experts like Georgetown University’s Dr. Leana Wen that thin cloth masks, often homemade, should stop being used, as they do not offer proper filtration and the proper protection factor that certified masks labeled KN95, KF94, N95, or a well-fitting surgical mask can.
Above all, please do not buy or wear a mask or face-covering indoors with exhalation valves if trying to prevent COVID-19. While they may look cool, they will cause the air you breathe, even if filled with COVID-19 virus particles, to escape through the valve and into your home, school or workplace. Save the masks with exhalation valves for sanding furniture or sweeping a dusty garage.
Beware of “fake” masks that are being sold on platforms like Amazon or Etsy that may not be made of real materials designed to provide the proper filtration and comfort. The U.S. needs to have a general mask standards, unlike Europe and Korea. Better to buy direct from credible companies like 3M. Make sure that the masks meet at minimum NIOSH Standards (National Institute for Occupational Safety and Health, a part of the CDC) or ASTM Standards (the American Society for Testing Materials). For example, the N95 masks that are now available to all have been given a NIOSH Approval # TC-84A-9315.
Here are a few simple Face-Fit tests that can help you see if there are air leaks in your mask that would let the ultra-fine aerosolized virus particles in or out of your breathing zone:
If you hold up your mask to the light, can you see light coming through? If so, this mask is hardly stopping virus particles and should not be used for the purpose of protection from COVID-19. If you insist on wearing a cloth mask, make sure that it is three layers and is of high thread count.
The candle test: hold the candle within 6 inches from your masked mouth. If you can blow out the candle through the mask, do not wear this mask because it will not stop the tiny COVID-19 virus particles.
The water test: Fill the inner cup of an extra mask with water. If any water leaks out, this type of mask will not protect you enough from the moist, possibly contaminated air in the breathing zone.
Lastly, in order to secure the mask so you won’t have to constantly touch the contaminated outer surface, make sure your mask has a flexible metal nose wire insert at the top to try and create a better fit. Many folks have been seen constantly pushing their mask up their nose as they speak. That is a sign that the mask does not fit properly and is leaking air.
If you are having trouble getting a good fit of your mask, try twisting the ear loop once in order to tighten the fit around your cheeks.
I am a new fan of mask nerd Aaron Collins, an aerosol scientist who has several credible YouTube videos showing why certain masks are better than others. See a sample of his summer 2021 advice on masks for kids before the vaccine for younger kids was approved this fall:
Building/Room Ventilation: All the scientists and health officials agree that this virus is mainly transmitted via the air, yet there has been little education about the ways you can reduce its presence in the airspace of a building or room. Here is a simple diagram that shows how to help reduce air contaminants in the home, including window fans, open windows, and ceiling fans. While it is simplistic, it may help reduce the transmission.
Commercial Buildings including restaurants and schools, offices, are supposed to maintain a certain standard of fresh air exchange and many have added high efficiency filters to ductwork in order to try and reduce stagnant air. Try going into buildings that are of newer construction or renovation or dare to ask the building owner how they manage their building’s ventilation.
Hand washing and use of sanitizer: If at a party, make sure you either bring some hand sanitizer (I have a small bottle in my purse) or wash your hands thoroughly after you use all of the Buffet Table utensils that everyone else touched before you did. While the government has stopped talking about it, you can still expose yourself to COVID-19 from infected surfaces, although the chances are less. Your infected fingers inserted in the nose or mouth or scratching an eye has been found to be a potential pathway to exposure.
While much of this information may appear to be a splash of cold water on your efforts to have a good time during the Holidays, it is meant only to help you and your loved ones to have a better time knowing that you are better protected and helping flatten the curve.
“We” all need to help stop this virus! Stay safe and have a terrific new year!