For two years, you beat the odds. You masked, kept your distance, got your shots.
Now, despite those efforts, you, your child, or someone else in your home has come down with COVID-19. And the last thing you want is for the virus to spread to everyone in the family or household. But how do you prevent it from circulating when you live in close quarters?
The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention recommends isolating COVID patients for at least five days, preferably in a separate room with access to their own bathroom, as well as diligent mask-wearing for both patient and caregiver. But for many families, those aren’t easy options. Not everyone has an extra bedroom to spare, let alone a free bathroom. Young children should not be left alone, and the youngest can’t tolerate masks.
“For parents of a young child, it’s pretty difficult not to be exposed,” said Dr. Preeti Malani, chief health officer at the University of Michigan. “You have to work back from the perfect to the possible and manage your risk the best you can.”
But take heart. Scientists say there is still a lot people can do to protect their families, chief among them improving ventilation and filtration of the air.
“Ventilation matters a lot,” said Dr. Amy Barczak, an assistant professor of medicine at Harvard Medical School. “If you’re taking care of someone at home, it’s really important to maximize all the interventions that work.”
To understand why good ventilation can make a difference, it helps to understand how the novel coronavirus spreads. Scientists have learned a lot in two years about its infectious mechanisms.
Viral particles float through the air like invisible secondhand smoke, diffusing as they travel. Outside the home, viruses are quickly dispersed by the wind. Inside, germs can build up, like clouds of thick cigarette smoke, increasing the risk of inhaling the virus.
The best strategy for avoiding the virus is to make your indoor environment as much like the outdoors as possible.
Start by opening as many windows as the weather allows, said Joseph Fox, a heating, ventilation, and air conditioning engineer for a large school district in Ontario, Canada. If possible, open windows on opposite sides of the home to create a cross breeze, which can help sweep viruses outside and bring fresh air inside.