Biden Administration, Tanya Lewis, Josh Fishman discussed on 60-Second Science


A scientific American podcast series. This is your fast track update on the COVID pandemic. We bring you up to speed on the science behind the most urgent questions about the virus and the disease. We demystify the research and help you understand what it really means. I'm Tanya Lewis. I'm Josh fishman. And we're a scientific American senior health editor. Today, we're going to talk about reducing infections by improving indoor air quality. And how a lot of people approve of masks on planes and other precautions despite what you see on the news. You and I talk a lot about how COVID spreads through the air and the importance of masks. But when it comes to stopping airborne infections, there's a longer term solution that doesn't require a filter across your face, isn't there? Absolutely. It's time we started improving the quality of the air inside our buildings. We spend 90% of our time indoors, but we devote very little effort to making that air healthy for human beings. As Lindsay marr, an aerosol expert at Virginia tech put it, we don't rely on people to filter their water individually. We provide clean, safe, drinking water. Good point. Why don't we care as much about indoor air? It's not like we just realized that breathing is important for health. It's more of a recent building design issue. In the last 40 years or so, we started stealing things up more in the name of energy efficiency, but though tighter seals reduce AC or heating bills, they also make it easier for the virus that causes COVID and other germs to accumulate in the air, making us sick. So in solving one problem, we created another. Shouldn't there be standards for indoor air quality? Well, there are kind of a professional engineering society called ashrae set standards for all our buildings, including offices, schools, and restaurants. But these rules are mostly meant to protect equipment, not people. Okay, I'm less important than a refrigerator. It really sounds like it's time for an update. Yes, it is. In fact, the Biden administration recently launched a push to improve the quality of air inside buildings. It has three pillars, ventilation, filtration, and air disinfection. Ventilation is basically how much fresh air you can bring in. The more fresh air, the more it dilutes any virus hanging around. Good. And then pillar too is filtration. That's using high quality air filters to remove virus particles. The filters have names like hepa and myrrh and the E in both stands for efficiency. Right. And finally, there's air disinfection. For example, using UV light to kill or inactivate a virus in the air. The Biden administration put out a practical guide for building managers and anyone who owns a home or business and wants to upgrade the air quality. We'll put a link in the transcript. This all sounds good on paper, Tanya, but it also sounds expensive. If I owned a small business or a ran a school, I'd worry that I couldn't afford to do all these things. Would I have to foot the bill myself? That's a great question. The American rescue plan actually contains a $122 billion for schools and 350 billion for state, local and tribal governments to support some of these improvements. But Congress doesn't want to keep funding the pandemic response indefinitely. So it seems unlikely there will be a lot more federal money allocated for this. Fortunately, some businesses that have the resources are taking it upon themselves to upgrade the air quality. Okay, that gets us part of the way there. There's an argument too that this is not just good health. It's good business as well, right? Yeah. The benefits of fresh air go beyond COVID and even other respiratory diseases. Joseph Allen, director of the healthy buildings program at Harvard school of public health, says it's just good business sense. Studies have shown that poorly ventilated places actually affect cognition and mental performance. We all know how awful it feels to sit in a stuffy conference room. Exactly, and we all deserve to breathe clean, healthy air. Last week, a judge in Florida struck down the mask mandate for airplanes and public transportation. News and social media were filled with photos of people gleefully discarding their masks. I also saw news videos of people cheering on planes, but like many news stories during the pandemic, those videos give the wrong impression. They actually represent the minority of Americans, not the majority. Yeah, it turns out that most people want masks on planes, trains, and public transit. That's according to a poll by the national opinion research center and the AP. 59% of people, in fact, the poll sampled about a thousand Americans of various ideologies and backgrounds. They got the question right before the judge ruled against the mandate and before the Biden administration said that it would appeal the ruling. More than half, huh? The loudest people get the most attention, I guess. But the majority of people in this country actually do support taking some public health precautions. You hear about the people who don't trust vaccines, but if you look at the numbers, 66% of Americans have gotten fully vaccinated. That's 219 million. And the number of doses given out per day doubled this month compared to march to almost 500,000. Big name athletes get headlines for refusing shots, but in the NBA, more than 90% of players get them. In the airline industry, united said that 99.5% of employees did so. Videos captured the shouting, but the data showed the caring, and that's something to keep in mind..

Coming up next