This One Common Item in Your House Could Be Spreading COVID, Study Finds
A team of German aerosol scientists warns against this one home appliance.
There's no doubt about it: staying home is one of the best ways to avoid contracting the novel coronavirus—but that doesn't mean that your home is free of risk. Even those among us that tread most carefully usually have possible points of exposure, from gas stations to grocery stores. And if you live with others, those points of exposure can multiply quickly, leading to a higher likelihood of viral spread within the home.
To make matters worse, our homes themselves can trap and spread viral particles from one family member to another. That's why a team of German aerosol scientists called the German Working Committee on Particulate Matter has recently taken the time to identify some of the worst ventilation risks within the average household. They determined that one appliance that many assume increases ventilation and general COVID safety may actually be putting you and your loved ones at increased risk: ceiling fans.
The cohort, which includes physicists, chemists, engineers, biologists and other scientific experts, found that "Ceiling fans recirculate air, likely keeping virus particles in the air for longer." This is particularly hazardous given that the warm air that we exhale rises, settling below the ceiling to either dissipate or be pushed back down in areas with overhead air sources.
"At home, table or pedestal fans are safe for air circulation among family members living together who are not infected with the virus that causes COVID-19," explains the WHO in a news briefing. "However, fans should be avoided when people who are not part of the immediate family are visiting, since some people could have the virus despite not having symptoms. Air blowing from an infected person directly at another in closed spaces may increase the transmission of the virus from one person to another," the health organization adds.
However, home fans are not the only potential source of risk. The German team identified several other ways to maximize ventilation safety at home, and claim that by following all of their combined guidelines—including wearing an N95 mask when risk is high—households can eliminate 90 percent of their airborne particles and greatly reduce their risk of infection. Read on for their potentially life saving tips, and for more on COVID safety, find out why The FDA Just Issued a Warning Against This Kind of Face Mask.
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According to the German cohort, one simple way to increase your COVID safety at home is to keep your windows open whenever possible.
The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) advises the same, but adds that people should avoid opening windows or doors "if doing so poses a safety or health risk… to occupants in the building." These potential risks include the possibility of falling, triggering asthma, or introducing security risks to the home. And for more on staying safe from COVID at home, check out The No. 1 Way to Reduce Your Coronavirus Risk Indoors.
Ventilation systems that extract air upward, rather than recirculating it throughout the room, can greatly reduce the rate of dangerous particles in your home's air. Appliances with an exhaust suction function are useful, especially those that filter air before recirculating it.
The team recommends that these types of systems should be introduced to classrooms, hospitals, restaurants, and various modes of public transportation.
Using air purification systems may be another way to reduce your COVID risk, say the scientists. According to the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA), "Air cleaners and HVAC filters are designed to filter pollutants or contaminants out of the air that passes through them. Air cleaning and filtration can help reduce airborne contaminants, including particles containing viruses."
The German team urges the use of systems that are appropriately sized for the space, though portable options can work for small rooms. And for more on COVID safety, check out Cutting This From Your Diet Could Reduce Your Risk of COVID Death.
While a C02 monitoring system won't keep your air cleaner, the results can let you know, generally speaking, how well your ventilation system is working.
This may not be necessary in the home, but could help larger buildings with greater foot traffic, such as museums, factories and other work environments, or event spaces.