Public Health Crisis and Public Health Opportunity (Part 1)
With every crisis, there is opportunity.
The pandemic has taught us infectious diseases can spread in many ways. Previously, the priority for infection control has been handwashing, sanitizing surfaces, and covering your mouth when you cough. Now, the priority is the air we breathe.
Both the COVID-19 pandemic and the 1918 Spanish Flu are transmitted by tiny airborne particles as well as larger droplets. Yet, early in the pandemic, the Center for Disease Control (CDC) and World Health Organization (WHO) were slow to acknowledge the importance of airborne transmission, to disastrous consequences.
The WHO stubbornly clung to old ideas about droplet transmission, stating: “COVID-19 appears to spread most easily through close contact with an infected person. When someone who has COVID-19 coughs or sneezes, small droplets are released.” And the CDC claimed that transmission happened “primarily by droplets from coughs or sneezes.”
We now know better – and public health authorities have finally caught up. If we want to address the spread of disease, we need to refocus on improving air quality, especially in hospitals, health care facilities, nursing homes, and schools.
In fact, the strategies used during the COVID-19 pandemic to address air quality had the added benefit of reducing the burden of other airborne diseases, like the flu and common cold. This further proves how important air quality is to address the spread of disease mitigation. And with new studies showing that breathing polluted air could be unhealthier than smoking, there has never been a better time to prioritize healthy air quality.