Share a meal, not a virus: Here's a few ways to stop the spread of disease at your holiday gathering
BETHLEHEM, PA - While Thanksgiving is a time for gathering and sharing a meal, we don’t want to be sharing illnesses as we come together around the dinner table. As we head indoors for our holiday get-togethers, there are some ways to reduce our risk of exposure to viruses, like COVID, flu or RSV.
Getting fresh air into your home, filtering the air that is there and improving airflow are all ways to ventilate your home and prevent the spread of disease, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.
Under their COVID-19 prevention measures, the CDC has a few recommendations for mitigating the virus and others like it. First, it says to bring fresh air into the home and keep that air circulating. You can do this by opening windows and doors. Even just cracking a window in colder weather can help.
"If opening windows and doors is unsafe, consider other approaches for reducing virus particles in the air, such as using air filtration and bathroom and stove exhaust fans.”Centers for Disease Control and Prevention
The CDC says, “If opening windows and doors is unsafe, consider other approaches for reducing virus particles in the air, such as using air filtration and bathroom and stove exhaust fans.” The use of fans is said to move virus particles out of the home. Those fans should be pointed to push the air towards a cracked window or door and exhaust and bathroom fans should be running while guests are there and up to an hour after they leave to reduce the spread of sicknesses.
Next, the CDC says using an air purifier, especially for those suffering from respiratory conditions, remains a viable way to filter out pollutants and allergens inside the home. Those triggers can cause those with preexisting conditions to experience respiratory distress, like wheezing and shortness of breath, said Dr. Joseph Schellenberg, a pulmonologist with Lehigh Valley Health Network.
“There’s a role for filtration systems, so different forms of air purifiers. We have sort of house-wide, we have your HVAC system, and they’re designed, usually, to have filters. They should have filters in them, to reduce particulate matter.”
However, HVAC systems, generally, have limited filtration, Schellenberg said. “They’re not going to be the most effective at reducing the smallest particle size because they have to allow flow to occur through a large system. So, we start moving into in-room air purifiers or your HEPA filters. HEPA filter is sort of the smallest, blocks the smallest particles.”
The CDC does says a small HEPA filter can be used to catch small particles in a specific room if a home doesn’t have a heating and cooling system. For those who do, the recommendation is to leave the HVAC system’s fan running on manual, so the air or heat may go on and off, but the fan is continually circulating air.
Of course, an air purifier is only as effective as the filter it uses. The CDC says people should make sure they are installed correctly and should be changed out every 3 months.
“They will all remove particulate matter to reduce that burden as long as you change the filters and you know, you service them appropriately, then they’ll be helpful. If not, then, obviously, they’ll lose their effectiveness,” said Dr. Schellenberg.
However, he cautions against using the ionizer feature on many popular air purifiers. “I’m not a fan of ozone, of ionizing air purifiers. They're trying to use this process to sort of attract particles, particulate matter and then it will be eventually removed. But, ozone is pro-inflammatory and is potentially harmful to people who are exposed to it. So, Ozone is a no-go!”
Air purifiers flew off store shelves during the start of the COVID-19 pandemic and again this past summer when the smoke blew down from Canada. So, Dan Jaffe, an atmospheric and environmental chemist from the University of Washington showed folks on YouTube how to make their own with a box fan, air filter and duct tape.
Professor Jaffe recommended a Merv-13 filter available at most home supply stores. Merv is the worldwide standard for air quality. the higher the Merv number the smaller the particle it captures. A Merv-13 will filter a particle between .3 and 1 micron. A micron is 1/50th the size of a human hair. Simply duct tape a 20” merv-13 filter to the back of a 20” box fan, making sure the arrows on the filter face toward the fan. Seal along the sides as best you can to prevent air from escaping, and voila: you have a homemade air purifier for under $100. Jaffe advised using nothing higher than a Merv-13 filter as anything higher could strain the fan’s motor. Also, the CDC recommends that these types of DIY air purifiers be used as a temporary measure and replaced by a company-made purifier.
“That’s essentially a way of moving air from one point to another point through a filter. At a time when you couldn’t get anything else, and you were susceptible that it was nice to be able to cobble together something that might help reduce the burden of that particulate matter for the individual person.” said Schellenberg.
He concluded by saying, “The concept here is, anything we can do to sort of breathe better, is gonna make us feel better, and hopefully enjoy a happy ability to do the things that we want to do.”