Over the months, scientific evidence has been giving more and more importance to a route of spread of the virus that a year ago was considered a real taboo by the World Health Organization: airborne transmission. We had to wait until July for the WHO itself to accept the alarm that 239 world-renowned researchers launched in a scientific article, where they warned of the importance of contagion by aerosolsIt was not until the autumn that the first practical measures to put a stop to it began to be implemented.
Since then, the convenience of monitoring the air we breathe has been permeating public opinion as an effective tool to fight against the covid. However, at this stage of the pandemic, the scientific community lives with concern –And without hiding a certain frustration– that prevent the spread of the virus by aerosols it continues without having the relevance it deserves among the precautions imposed by the authorities and among the daily practices that citizens have adopted.
José Luis Jiménez: «Much has been spent on gels when contagion from surfaces, if any, is very low»
«When we go anywhere, They warn us that they respect anticovid measures because they have gel dispensers, capacity control and masks. But nobody tells you if the place is well ventilatedNot if it has CO2 meters, or if its ventilation system has the correct filters, ”complains Margarita del Val, immunologist at the Severo Ochoa Center for Molecular Biology (CBM), dependent on the CSIC.
The researcher does not discharge the responsibility on the establishments, which after all comply with the regulations that have been imposed on them, but on whoever dictates those rules: «Today we continue without a clear protocol that indicates the requirements that an enclosed space must meet to allow meetings», Regrets.
Margarita del Val: «Adopting certain routines prevents illnesses, deaths and business closures»
Del Val is part of the group of top-level scientists – made up of more than a hundred virologists, epidemiologists, immunologists and covid experts from other disciplines – who at the end of March sent a letter to the central and regional governments to warn of the need to ‘rethink’ the recommendations of prevention that are currently applied.
In particular, the researchers consider that it is necessary to “reduce the emphasis and save resources on some measures, such as surface cleaning». In return, they propose “to give top priority to reducing the risk of infection by inhalation of the virus.”
In their writing, the scientists make eight recommendations, most of which have to do with air. These include the promotion of outdoor activities –with an express request that parks and gardens be kept open, now that the good weather has arrived, and that terraces with enclosures that impede ventilation be monitored– or the “urgent and widespread” implementation of CO2 meters to verify the quality of the environment in closed places.
In the current phase of the pandemic, with the fourth wave advancing faster than vaccination programs and the spring temperatures already installed in our latitudes, scientists propose to transfer the battle against the covid to the air.
In their didactic effort, the experts are encouraged to give practical instructions on how to carry out proper ventilation of interior spaces –Which allows the “crossed and distributed” circulation of air, with an entry point and another exit point of the current– and indicate the minimum rates of air in movement that are considered adequate: above 12.5 liters per second and per person.
«Taking these measures into account is not that difficult. In many schools they have incorporated the CO2 meter into school supplies as normal and the students themselves know when the environment is too loaded and should be ventilated. It would be about popularizing the use of these tools and adopting these routines because, really, they serve to prevent business closures, illnesses and deaths, ”warns Margarita Del Val.
Launch citizen awareness campaigns to stress the importance of air quality in the fight against the pandemic is another of the requests made by the researchers in their letter, which has been promoted by the platform of scientists and experts in covid Aireamos.org.
Since the beginning of the pandemic, the effort to keep the coronavirus at bay has been summarized in a graphic composed of three drawings that evoke the famous recommendations: hand washing, mask and social distancing.
Since then, José Luis Jiménez, professor of Chemistry and Environmental Sciences at the University of Colorado and one of the world standard bearers of the fight against the transmission of covid by aerosolsHe is sighing for a fourth drawing in that painting that makes tables of the law of the pandemic: that of an open window.
The main route of contagion
“We have spent an enormous amount of money on hydroalcoholic gels and disinfectants, when surface spread of the virus, if present, is very low. On the other hand, we have left the main contagion route unattended, which is airborne in closed or poorly ventilated spaces, ”laments Jiménez.
When the pandemic passes, it will be time to review the prevention strategies that have been applied to avoid mistakes in the future. It may then be known why the thesis that the coronavirus spreads through the air He has had to row against the current.
“When the pandemic arrived, the dominant thought in the WHO was that viral diseases are only transmitted by drops and contact, except for very rare viruses, and that idea was adopted as a dogma without checking the evidence scientific ”, explains José Luis Jiménez.
That initial distrust towards aerosols has remained until today in the public. “People are now more aware of air quality, but not in proportion to its influence on the spread of the virus», Warns the professor of Environmental Sciences.
Eddie is an Australian news reporter with over 9 years in the industry and has published on Forbes and tech crunch.