When the Air Becomes the Enemy
In March we barely knew how COVID-19 spread. We ran with a number of assumptions. And we got spanked. By the virus. What we humans got right or wrong is for another Page.
As I write this the United States IS the pandemic in terms of certain numbers. During lockdown we all had time, and I used some of mine for reading about historic epidemics. How hygiene made a difference. How freshwater and sealed wastewaters (sewers) made the old big cities great places to live. Not so risky and toxic as before.
It seems to me we have to keep the viral basics in play. Crowds certainly spread infections far more than uncrowded spaces. Viral vectors include air, water, bathroom and kitchen wastewater, and every kind of physical contact. Person to surface to person. For the purposes intended in this writing, consider those to be irrefutable facts. Like politics, staying away here from latter-day less confirmed refutable facts for a moment.
I can only imagine the cost old London paid in lives before sewers and freshwater reduced diseases. See John Snow. Then they paid for water systems and wastewater systems. Of course, the Romans built great aqueducts at great cost.
Public health safety binds civilization. Take it away and you no longer have a functioning country. The stakes are rarely higher. The public must endure certain limited risks for the greater good. Right now that seems to be masked in public for a while. One can read of drastic measures like locking down whole towns that go back to at least the 1400s.
Bacteria and viruses are evolving in the wild. People are going deep into jungles, forests and caves as the population expands. In short, we will see no end of new microbial threats.
We have water and wastewater systems in place. We are going to have to upgrade all our a/c and ventilation systems to disinfect the air just as we require a separate bathroom. And a sewer system separate from what runs down the curb. We are going to have to design and build solutions into homes and workspaces. One recent COVID lesson is that we need lids on all the toilets. This same data also implies we need to pull the air out, disinfect it, run it through a HEPA filter and only then release it.
There are ways to do this fairly easily. You use existing HEPA filters and add a UV lightbox to the filter chamber. Safety devices like making sure the light is off when someone changes the filter will be necessary.
Copper might be the new stainless. Copper naturally limits the ability of most microbiology to survive better than any other common metal. Silver does this too but is simply too costly and will tarnish like copper eventually.
For those that decry the costs, particularly as applies to schools we should remember that life costs money. A good life costs more money. How good a life will you like for your kids at school? Sewers cost. Faucets and bathrooms cost. Hot water costs for water, heat energy and a heater appliance. But we want hot water for dirty dishes.
In closing, we need to yet again review infrastructure design for public health. I’m personally pretty confident a lot of that costs far less than whole cities staying at home.