Ontario’s Christmas Lockdown: Maybe Santa will leave a new approach under the tree

Photo by Jack Cohen on Unsplash

As we approach another Covid19 lockdown in Ontario, share a thought or prayer for the thousands of restaurants, small retail and other establishments that have, for months, been treated like yo-yo’s, albeit yo-yo’s that are getting closer and closer to losing momentum and falling to the ground.

They are the unfortunate victims of an approach to dealing with Covid that has assumed that our health and economic activity are mutually exclusive. Rooted in an inability or unwillingness to collect and present granular data on where Covid19 infections originate, this approach has seen a focus on surfaces and proximity at the expense of attention to aerosol transmission and a data-enabled focus on the riskiest locations for transmission.

As the Public Health Agency of Canada (PHAC) noted in November, unfortunately far later than health agencies in other jurisdictions, the vast majority of Covid19 transmission occurs indoors, and, importantly, in settings with poor air ventilation. Given we spend over 90% of our time indoors, the importance of this can’t be underestimated. And while we’ve spent months worried about what we touch, what we breathe is potentially more important. To put this in more visual context, if an infected individual enters an enclosed space with poor ventilation, they breathe out their Covid19 particles which are then inhaled by others. It lingers and spreads to fill a room, just like smoke. And voila, there’s your outbreak.

While a mask can guard against some potential transmission, in spaces with poor air ventilation, the risk of transmission is far higher as exhaled air (which we can measure using CO2) sits longer in the airspace. This is true regardless of location-type, be it a workplace, a school classroom, your favourite restaurant or your living room.

Around the world, this focus on ventilation has received far more attention. Most notably, the German government announced in October that it is investing hundreds of millions in solutions that improve indoor ventilation in public buildings. Next door in Switzerland, 2500 schools in Zurich are being equipped with CO2 monitors to help teachers measure and ventilate classrooms effectively and regularly. And in New York City all public schools were provided with CO2 monitors to allow building staff to measure levels of fresh air.

In Ontario, we have completely ignored aerosol transmission in our approach to-date. Instead we’ve hoped that a focus on masking and distance, notably keeping tables/shoppers/students apart from each other would be sufficient. And while these steps are indeed necessary, the ongoing increase in cases begs for an evolved approach. And given what we know about aerosol transmission, it must be part of this updated framework.

Doing so can and should borrow from leading approaches globally, notably these recommendations from the German Working Group on Particulate Matter. The group’s recommendations are simple: wear N95 masks, increase ventilation either by open windows or exhaust fans, use air purifiers and constantly monitor Co2 as a proxy for air quality and thus the ability to help determine safe occupancy and capacity.

Evidently this type of approach won’t remove all risks. Nothing short of a vaccine with near-ubiquitous uptake will. But unless we’re willing to keep the entire economy closed, until that point, we need a solution that allows employers, teachers and individuals to measure and manage the safety of their air and take action to improve it.

The solution is an updated risk management framework that addresses both the physical and aerosol elements of how Covid19 can be transmitted. We’re evidently biased but a high-quality CO2 monitor is a key and affordable step to making this work.

To read more about AirQ’s approach to air quality monitoring and how it can help determine air quality risks in your workplace, read our case study on a Toronto-based restaurant here (https://airq.medium.com/case-study-osteria-du-a-toronto-restaurant-777e2cdc8e4d) .

And if you have any questions, don’t hesitate to get in touch with us.

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