'We need to up the game on ventilation' to limit coronavirus spread, expert says


Stephen McNeice
Stephen McNeice

10.37 14 Aug 2020


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There's a need for everyone to 'up the game' on ventilation to help limit the spread of coronavirus in schools and workplaces, an expert has said.

Professor John Wenger says research is pointing towards aerosol transmission potentially being a major factor in the spread of the virus.

He says simple measures such as opening windows can make a difference, and suggested schools should consider 'mask breaks' for students to help ventilate classrooms.

It comes after research from the University of Florida showed infectious coronavirus was retrieved from hospital air.

While the findings have not yet been peer-reviewed, they have nonetheless prompted significant attention from the scientific community.

Professor Wenger - from the centre for research into atmospheric chemistry at University College Cork - spoke to Newstalk Breakfast about the findings.

He said: "I was one of the 239 scientists that wrote the open letter urging the World Health Organisation to recognise aerosol transmission

"There is evidence being built in the literature over the last months, and I think this study really nails it home.

"Aerosols - tiny particles, smaller than droplets - can travel several metres across a room. If the room is not ventilated, for example, the concentration of the virus-containing aerosol can build up.

"This means that exposure is not just within the two metre range, but could be at room level. This study really now goes to show it's not just present at more than two metres, it's also infectious there as well."

He said the researchers used a "very smart technique" to collect the aerosol, and their findings that it could infect other cells marks an important breakthrough in COVID-19 research.

'We need to make sure we clean the air'

Professor Wenger said there's now a need to focus on ventilation - something he suggested hasn't been talked about enough.

He observed: "If you're in a small room with many people in it... even with distancing, we could build up a concentration of virus if one person is infected.

"We need to make sure we clean the air - not just the surfaces.

"If we clean the air of the virus, then we're reducing the risk of transmission - and the way to do that is through ventilation."

Simple measures can be implemented to help ventilation in room, such as opening doors and windows.

Professor Wenger said this is an issue that's particularly important as schools prepare to reopen.

He said: "When I looked at the Department of Education guidelines, I was really dismayed to see there was lots of talk about cleaning, but only about surfaces. There was no talk of cleaning about air.

"We're finding the virus in very clean environments, [so] imagine a classroom or workplace that's poorly ventilated. I think we need to up the game on ventilation.

"Consider the class going outside for five minutes to 'demask', to have a mask break - but you also get a chance to ventilate the classrooms too."

His advice comes as a number of schools in Ireland are preparing to introduce ‘breathing breaks’ to allow students go outside and take off their masks for a time during the school day.

Main image: File photo. Picture by Danny Lawson/PA Wire

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