In this issue:
Health Experts Call For Action Against Indoor Airborne Virus
Concern over the lack of a strong policy to combat the airborne transmission of the coronavirus in interior settings is mounting.
A group of 13 public health experts, including such members of President Biden’s own COVID task force as Rick Bright, the former director of the Biomedical Advanced Research and Development Authority, and Michael Osterholm, a highly regarded epidemiologist at the University of Minnesota, called for immediate action to, as the New York Times put it, “limit airborne transmission of the virus in high-risk settings like meatpacking plants and prisons.”
The plea came in a letter Feb. 16 to Rochelle Walensky, director of the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC); Administration COVID Coordinator Jeff Zients; and Anthony Fauci, director of NIH’s National Institute of Allergy and Infectious Diseases.
The Times quoted Linsey Marr, an expert on aerosols at Virginia Tech, as saying:
It’s time to stop pussyfooting around the fact that the virus is transmitted mostly through the air. If we properly acknowledge this, and get the right recommendations and guidance into place, this is our chance to end the pandemic in the next six months. If we don’t do this, it could very well drag on.
The World Health Organization conceded only in July that the virus can linger in enclosed spaces, and it took the CDC until October to recognize that the virus can sometimes be airborne – “in a puzzling sequence of events in which a description of how the virus spreads appeared on the agency’s website, then vanished, then resurfaced two weeks later,” wrote Aporova Mandavilli of the Times.
Biden Strategy Comprehensive But Not Complete
Also puzzling is the omission in President Biden’s “National Strategy for the COVID-19 Response and Pandemic Preparedness”, issued on Jan. 21, his first full day office.
The document runs 200 pages and covers vaccinations, testing, masking, data-gathering, distancing and treatment. It advocates using the Defense Production Act for personal protective equipment (PPE) and promises to issue clear public health standards. It provides advice on safely reopening schools, businesses, and travel while at the same time protecting workers.
The strategy is certainly comprehensive, but there is no mention of technology for attacking airborne pathogens in enclosed areas. These are the interior spaces in which, according to a paper in the journal Nature, people spend 87% of their time, and, as the CDC puts it, “SARS-CoV-2 viral particles [which cause COVID-19] spread between people more readily indoors than outdoors.”
As a report in the Wall Street Journal stated:
It’s not common to contract Covid-19 form a contaminated surface, scientists say. And fleet encounters with people outdoors are unlikely to spread the corornavirus. Instead, the major culprit is close-up person-person interactions for extended periods.
And those interactions typically occur inside classrooms, hospitals, clinics, restaurants, retail stores, offices, factories, convention halls, movie theaters, gyms, casinos, arenas, and homes.
The good news is that technology exists to eliminate viruses, bacteria, molds, and other dangerous pathogens in interior air.
The bad news is that it is being largely ignored by policy makers. For example, in the Biden strategy document, the word “mask” appears 73 times and “distancing” 28 times, but “air purification” or even “airborne” not once.
Mitigation Through Ventilation?
The only mention of the serious threat of SARS-CoV-2 floating in interior air comes in the text of two executive orders that are part of the strategy document. In one, the President asks for “proper ventilation” in schools, and in the other, he wants “appropriate ventilation” in means of transportation. The document also refers to a request to Congress for $25 billion for personal protective equipment and “ventilation supplies” for “hard-hit child care providers.”
Ventilation is a term that refers to the exchange of air: moving it in and out, replacing old with new. “Ensuring proper ventilation with outside air can help reduce the concentration of airborne contaminants, including viruses, indoors,” says the Environmental Protection Agency. “However, by itself, increasing ventilation is not enough to protect people from COVID-19.”
Ventilation interventions, says the CDC, “can reduce airborne concentration [of SARS-CoV-2], which reduces the overall viral dose to occupants.” Of course, ventilation, as it moves old air out and fresh air in, can also cause pathogens in one part of a room (for example, where an infected person may drinking scotch) to flow to another part of the room (where you may be eating a steak).
But the main point is that ventilation, even if does reduce the concentration of airborne pathogens, is in itself is a crude technology for eliminating SARS-CoV-2. Much better are systems that trap the pathogens in filters, or, better yet, destroy the virus particles outright.
CDC's Guidelines for Schools
Reopening schools is a top priority for the new Administration, and the CDC on Feb. 12 issued an extensive update to its guidelines for schools and child care centers. Again, the emphasis was on masks and social distancing. A separate guide for teachers called “How Do I Set Up My Classroom,” advocated, “Open a door or windows to increase ventilation.” But the CDC warns, “Do not open windows and doors if doing so poses a safety or health risk (e.g., risk of falling, triggering asthma attacks).”
As if it’s not cold enough in a classroom with open windows in February, the teacher guide also advices: “Use fans to increase the effectiveness of open windows.” But again, the CDC has a warning: Don’t position fans in a way in which they can “push potentially contaminated air directly from one person over or to another.”
A Fla. School Charts Its Own Course
What the CDC does not mention is technology that seeks out and destroys pathogens in the air, but this technology has been attracting schools all over the country.
For example, when the 2020-21 school year began, students and teachers at the Pine View School in Osprey, Fla., were eager to get back to the classroom, but they were also worried. The school implemented new safety measures regarding masks, distancing, and hand-washing. But some of the parents had read about air-purification technology to neutralize SARS-CoV-2 in interior spaces. They wanted this extra protection for their children, but the school system was not providing it.
So Courtney Rosenthal, a parent at Pine View School, which educates gifted students in grades 2 through 12 in Sarasota County, started a GoFundMe campaign to purchase stand-alone air-purification units. The campaign raised $70,968 in just 11 days, enough to purchase 130 such units– one for all 112 classrooms at Pine View plus more for other Sarasota County schools that needed them. “It was the domino effect,” said Rosenthal. “The community just came together.”
Rather than blowing air around or trapping pathogens in filters, the technology blasts out sub-microscopic particles that seek out viruses, attack them, and render them harmless.
“I have three kids who go to Pine View and I teach here,” said Pamela Novak, a teacher at the school. “I feel so much safer knowing that my kids, their friends, our teachers, our staff, everyone is going to have that added layer of safety.”
An 11th grader said she had special concerns about COVID-19 because her father is at high risk. “I’ve honestly been really scared about coronavirus. Knowing about the air scrubbers being in my classes makes me feel a lot more safe,” she said.
A little more than halfway through the academic year, students at Pine View are remaining in the classroom for in-person learning without fear while others throughout the country have been forced to move back and forth between virtual learning and in-person learning.
Technology Destroys Airborne COVID Virus Quickly and Safely
The technology that Pine View adopted was highlighted in a Dec. 10 article in the Washington Post by the newspaper’s innovation reporter Dalvin Brown. Called ActivePure, it was developed by a Dallas-based company.
According to Brown of the Post, “While many home-based air purifiers rely on passive HEPA filters or ultraviolet light to kill contaminants, ActivePure uses active, NASA-inspired technology to disinfect the air.”
Standard air purifiers, wrote Brown, “use a fan and filter system that sucks in unclean air, captures contaminants and pushes clean air back into the room.” By contrast, in the ActivePure system, “a fan brings in free oxygen and water molecules and then converts them into special molecules as they pass through an internal UV light.” Using a patented process, the unit then blasts the ionized particles “back out into a room to find and destroy microorganisms.”
The Post article referred to the testing results by FDA-compliant, military-grade Biosafety Levels 3 and 4 laboratories that found that an ActivePure-powered unit, at its lowest setting, destroyed more than 99.9% of a high concentration of SARS-CoV-2 viruses in just three minutes. The article also noted that in June, the FDA gave a Class II Medical Device designation to the company’s Medical Guardian device, used in health care settings.
The Medical Guardian, which is driven by the same technology as all ActivePure devices, was found to safely destroy the six pathogens – two viruses, two bacteria, and two molds – on which it was tested. Included was an MS2 bacteriophage virus whose structure is similar to SARS-CoV-2.
Devices That Address the Experts' Concerns
It’s unclear whether the public health experts who wrote to the CDC are even aware of the ActivePure-driven devices, but the technology would seem to address their concerns. Filters, which are often cited as combatting airborne pathogens, are a slow, passive technology limited by the amount of contaminated air that passes through them.
Devices that are active – that is, send out particles to deactivate viruses – will undoubtedly proliferate in the coming months and years. They are able to destroy SARS-CoV-2 mutations, as well, almost certainly, as pathogens that will cause future pandemics.
COVID Solutions Bulletin
Our mission is to educate people on innovative solutions to the COVID-19 crisis in America. We need to get back to work, to school, to play – to enjoying life. We can’t get there without thwarting the current pandemic and preparing for the possibility of other pathogens to come.
COVID Solutions Bulletin is a publication providing regular updates on new and existing technologies that can help stop the spread of COVID-19, and help clear the air to open America back up.