This Strange German Law Could Help Us All Stay Safe From COVID

It turns out, you don't need to make a huge investment to keep some spaces safer from coronavirus.

Medical experts have been clear that, when it comes to slowing the spread of the coronavirus, practicing social distancing and wearing a face covering in public can be incredibly effective. But because the virus can be transmitted through airborne particles, indoor spaces are often a relatively risky environment. So what's the solution? It turns out, we should be following in Germany's footsteps. The country's rental agreements often include a legally binding clause requiring tenants to open their windows twice a day, mainly to protect against mold and any unpleasant smells, The Guardian reports. But this long-standing requirement has also helped with the novel coronavirus. Yes, simply keeping windows open can help you curb COVID with little effort and at no cost.

Even though the idea of creating a nice cross breeze in your home may not sound like breakthrough information, German Chancellor Angela Merkel said "it may be one of the cheapest and most effective ways," according to The Guardian.

Recently, the German government updated their health guidelines to reflect the importance of keeping a window open. They added a few letters to their COVID public health acronym "AHA," which stands for maintaining adequate distance of at least 1.5 meters from other people, practicing regular hand hygiene, and adhering to the appropriate wearing of face masks. But now, the acronym is "AHACL," which represents the nation's contact tracing app and lüften, a German word that reminds citizens to circulate fresh air into their homes twice a day. "Regular impact ventilation in all private and public rooms can considerably reduce the danger of infection," the national guidelines explain.

happy woman standing in front of open window

Since the pandemic first hit Germany in March, there have been at least 289,200 confirmed coronavirus cases and 9,488 people have died, according to the country's public health institution, the Robert Koch Institute. That's 0.35 percent of the country's total population that's contracted the virus.

By comparison, according to data from The New York Times, more than 7.25 million people in the United States have been infected with COVID and at least 206,500 have died as a result. That means 2.2 percent of Americans have come down with the coronavirus, nearly six times the rate of Germany.

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There is mounting research that proves poorly ventilated indoor areas are among the highest risk venues for spreading the disease. A Chinese study released in April found that an air conditioning unit using recirculated air was responsible for spreading the virus to multiple diners in a poorly ventilated restaurant. And a study released in September of a group bus trip in China found that travelers became infected because of the poorly ventilated coaches they were traveling on. The buses used a recirculated air system and did not have windows that could open to allow fresh airflow.

Both the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) and the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) have recommended regularly cracking windows at home, especially to help stop the spread of the virus between members of the same household.

Some local health officials have also urged their citizens to let the breeze in. "A really good way to decrease any potential risk of COVID is just to open your window, open your door, have additional airflow running through your apartment or through your home," Allison Arwady, MD, commissioner for the Chicago Department of Public Health, said in July. "And, broadly, letting the outdoors in is one, it has turned out to be, one of the more important things for limiting the risk of COVID in buildings." And for more on how you can stay safe, avoid the Things You're Doing Every Day That Put You at COVID Risk.

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Zachary Mack
Zach is a freelance writer specializing in beer, wine, food, spirits, and travel. He is based in Manhattan. Read more
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