Outdoor spaces, good air filtration lead to reduced risk of COVID-19
You may have seen a viral post, or heard about it on KIRO Radio, posted by Erin Bromage, a professor at the University of Massachusetts at Dartmouth called, “The Risks – Know Them – Avoid Them.”
In his post, Bromage, an expert in science communications, outlines how the coronavirus is transmitted, particularly in enclosed spaces and in large groups. He originally posted it for his friends and family, not expecting it to be seen by nearly 14 million people.
“I have been teaching an undergraduate class this past semester on ecology of infectious diseases, and I picked a new emerging threat that was coming out of China when I put the syllabus together in January,” Bromage said. “And so since January, my students and I had been tracking the emerging science coming out of all these amazing labs around the world and just collating it together.”
As it started to emerge as a global threat, Bromage said he put the information together and shared it on Facebook for his friends.
“From there, I had a few people ask, could it be accessible off Facebook? And so over the period of about 12 weeks, I’ve written about 40 posts,” he said. “Some on just updates of where we are now, others on shopping plans, where we shouldn’t wear the masks, about the role of animals, just sort of relevant things that I was trying to work out, and understand the problem myself.”
Bromage is from Australia, where they’re working to reopen. As the United States starts to reopen, he realized nobody really had the guidelines we need to protect ourselves in the community.
“I was just trying to teach my friends, those closest around me, where the dangers were so they could navigate this new normal a little bit differently,” he said. “I was not expecting 14 million eyes to lay on the post, there’s normally about 500 people reading it. But that’s where it ended up.”
The message was perhaps reassuring for people, as it’s fairly safe to be outside. Though there are still risks, Bromage clarified.
“I look at people being worried about everything, and the way I have approached this problem in regards to the pandemic is the more that you know about it, the better armed you can be and the better decisions that you could make,” he said. “And so when you’re spending energy really worrying about things, there are things you should worry about, and then there’s things that are risky, but let’s not go overboard with how crazy you should be about them, and being outside is one of those things.”
If you maintain social distance, and are mindful of your environment and surroundings, including any strong breezes, outdoors is a great place to be, Bromage says.
“It’s not just a single viral particle that infects you,” he said. “You have to build up to an infectious dose, and that can take time with just breathing.”
“The evidence is just building that enclosed spaces with lots of people and poor filtration lead to everything that you need for a cluster, an outbreak to occur in that environment,” he added.
If the safety of the outdoors is the good news, the danger of the indoors is the bad news.
“I’m almost certain that we can engineer our way out of this problem,” Bromage said. “There’s the biology we need to solve, and then we need to bring that together with these building engineers that understand filtration systems and filter systems. And things can be put in place to make indoor environments safer.”
Until a vaccine comes, Bromage said little things like added physical space between people, making sure there is adequate filtration that replaces the air from outside, not just recycling the air, and wearing masks can all reduce the risk when you’re indoors.
“It’s just going to take some great science, some great engineering, and people just relearning the way in which we operate,” he said.