How Managing the Air We Breathe is the Pandemic End Game
We are all, logically, concentrating these days on social distancing, proper wearing of masks, and testing. We hope that not too much further down the road there will be a vaccination, even though that will take some time to be fully distributed.
But at the end of it all, public confidence, and our ability to manage not only this pandemic but the next one (and there will be a next one) will depend on how well the air we breathe can be cleaned in a wide variety of settings. This will be an interesting mix of science, politics, and economics.
Moving the Air
As many of us have come to learn in this crisis, the air exchange systems in a great many places is not helpful. Many systems simply move around the same, infected air. If an infected person happens to be sitting next to an air conditioner, for example, those germs are quickly spread over a much larger area than would otherwise be the case. Part of the challenge is cleaning the air, infusing fresh (outside air) and doing so with impressive efficiency.
Shine a Light
A second front seems to involve the use of UV-C light. This type of light can kill the danger at impressive speed and can cover large areas quickly. This is different from the UV rays we get (and fear) from the sun. There are distribution and treatment systems in existence now, but they are of comparatively small scale and are breathtakingly (no pun intended) expensive. But the promise is worth pursuing. A solution that does not require drugs or chemicals or scrubbing down is almost a holy grail.
Choices to be Made
Find a better air movement and filtration system, add in something like the UV-C treatment and we are ready when something like things stalks us again. Every business will be looking for solutions, these or others, but some have much more at stake and face far larger challenges. First in line here are in the transportation sector.
Shall We Travel?
Think about the risks and challenges on public transportation, on airplanes, and on cruise ships.
The airline industry makes much of the systems they have in place already, but I have to say a lot of us are, to put it gently, are skeptical. I don’t recall ever stepping off an airplane after a long flight thinking how refreshed I felt breathing that clean, crisp airplane air. But the ones who may have the greatest challenge is the cruise industry. A large portion of their customer base are seniors, a group vulnerable to airborne and other threats.
By now, a lot of that customer base is thinking about the horror stories at the early days of this pandemic. People trapped on ships as the disease spread. In addition, many are recalling similar stories, although less severe, with SARS and Legionnaires Disease. There is a pattern here that could lead one to conclude that that something about cruise ships makes them a large petri dish.
Add to that the risk of becoming ill on the high seas, under the jurisdiction of no one but the company that owns the ship. Ready to go on a cruise now? The cruise industry spends a ton of money on each ship. They are marvels of engineering and technology.
I suspect they will need to invest at impressive levels to start over on how air is moved and cleaned all throughout their ships. Failing that, they are unlikely to ever recover anywhere near to what they knew before all this happened. I expect some will get it and will overcome. Some will not.
Meanwhile, Back on Land
The same sort of calculation will be ongoing on smaller scales in restaurants, in night clubs, in entertainment venues and countless other places. In every situation local laws (or not, if at sea or at 30,000 feet), costs, availability, and frankly, guesses at how good a given new technology is at doing what is promised. Those who do not find viable solutions are not likely to survive. Some who do decide and invest will find what they chose does not work or does not convince the public, and they too will fail.
Now, think about the rest of us – ordinary citizens and customers. We also will have to sort through all this and decide where and how we will measure risk.
Gee, if only there was a federal government that would see this set of requirements as another moon shot. Where might we find such a thing? At your local polling place, that’s where.
Good luck to us all.
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