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Covid-19 cases, testing and Omicron news: live updates

Covid-19 cases, testing and Omicron news: live updates
credit…Libby Marsh for The New York Times

With the epidemic entering a new phase in the United States, characterized by fewer precautions and a more transmissible rise Omicron subvariant BA.2the Biden administration has begun to stress the importance of mitigating the risks of indoor aerosol transmission, the primary driver of the pandemic.

The Environmental Protection Agency recently released expert guidance for building managers, contractors and business owners, in two pages of Recommendations which codified best practices in ventilation, air purification, and air disinfection from academic experts and federal agencies in the past two years. The agency said implementation could be secured with federal funds from $1.9 trillion US bailout That President Biden Signed into law a year ago.

Dr. Alondra Nelson, chief of the White House Office of Science and Technology Policy, said last week that the guidance was part of an initiative called the Clean Air in Buildings Challenge. In a blog post titled, “Let’s clear the air on covidShe cited the guidelines and said, ‘Now, we all need to work collectively to make our friends, family, neighbors, and colleagues aware of what we can do or ask for to make it safer to be indoors together. “

“For decades, Americans have called for clean water to flow from our taps and for pollution limits on our chimneys and exhaust pipes,” she wrote in the post. “It is time that clean and healthy indoor air also becomes an expectation for all of us.”

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US federal health authorities were initially slow to identify airborne transmission of the virus. Only in October 2020, did the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention realize that the virus Sometimes it can be airborne, long after many infectious disease experts warned that the coronavirus is transmitted aloft in tiny airborne particles. Scientists have called for a greater focus on tackling this danger for more than a year.

This initiative is a “really big deal,” said William Bahnflith, professor of architecture at Penn State University and chair of the epidemiology task force at the American Society of Heating, Refrigerating, and Air Conditioning Engineers. “It’s the beginning that is often the hardest part.”

The society, which traces its roots to the dawn of the skyscraper in the late 19th century, is a global, non-profit technical community that, among other things, develops agreed-upon indoor air quality standards referred to in US building codes.

Dr. Bahnflith’s task force was set up when the pandemic began sweeping the world in March 2020, and new federal recommendations closely follow its guidance. He said the pandemic has given impetus to the long-awaited quest to improve the country’s “average” air quality standards for buildings, noting that current standards have failed to protect people from coronavirus infection.

Viruses can be transmitted in several ways. Early in the pandemic, health officials assumed that the coronavirus was transmitted primarily through droplets expelled during coughing or sneezing, as with influenza, or perhaps through contact with contaminated surfaces. But many scientists have noticed mounting evidence that the coronavirus is transmitted through the air, spreading in tiny particles floating aimlessly in indoor spaces.

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Closer to rating system high quality maskswhose high-tech filter materials trap at least 94 to 95 percent of the most hazardous particles (N95s, KN95s and KF94s), filters used in building ventilation systems have what is known as MERV . rating. The higher the rating, which runs from 1 to 16, the better the filter is at trapping particles.

New federal guidelines advise buildings to upgrade to at least a MERV 13 filter, which traps 85 percent or more of hazardous particulates. Before the pandemic, many buildings used MERV 8 filters, which were not designed to fight infection.

Long before the pandemic spread, studies had shown that indoor air quality was affecting the health of students and workers. Harvard study Of more than 3,000 workers, they showed that sick leave increased by 53 percent among employees in poorly ventilated areas. Better ventilation was also associated with better test scores and fewer absences from school.

“Improving indoor air has benefits beyond Covid-19,” Dr. Nelson wrote. “It will reduce the risk of catching the flu, colds, or other illnesses spread through the air, and lead to better overall health outcomes.”


March 27, 2022

Due to an editorial error, an earlier version of this article misspelled the size of the US bailout signed by President Biden last year. It was $1.9 trillion, not $1.9 billion.