“We need to figure out a way to hang out with other people and not get Covid again.”My wife
It’s been a rough two years for most people since the Covid-19 pandemic got started, and the same is true for our household. We’ve both been sick at least twice with Covid-19 symptoms, some of which have persisted for months. But now we’re both back to ‘normal’, fully vaccinated and we’d like to keep it that way for as long as possible, even when the case numbers around us are taking off again. States are tearing up their own rules, so we’ve made some of our own to keep ourselves and our friends safe.
Our Covid-Safe rules for home & away
1. Wearing Masks – When
Masks are the most effective thing you can do to protect yourselves and others. They are bearable, but not always comfortable, especially when it’s warm outside or you are doing major physical activity. We wear masks when leaving the house, in the communal areas of apartment blocks (entrance, stairways, basements, parking garage, lift, bicycle parking) and anywhere else we go indoors (shops, offices, doctors surgery etc.). We don’t generally wear them outside, unless we are passing people on the street or it’s really busy.
2. Wearing Masks – What type?
Our go-to mask combination is a ‘fish style’ FFP2, with a blue surgical mask on top for higher risk situations, changed daily. For indoors, it’s always an FFP2, ideally ‘double masked’ with a surgical one on top if the situation merits it (poor ventilation, lots of people, anyone we consider high risk!). Outdoors we the risks are reduced, so if we wear a mask it’s normally just a surgical one, unless we only have an FFP2 handy.
We are fortunate enough to have picked up a couple of MicroClimate helmet style masks from the US. These are for grocery trips, and during mask mandates we wear a surgical mask inside, mostly so that nobody accuses us of not wearing a mask or complying with the mask rules for supermarkets. The MicroClimate is a transparent acrylic dome fitted with an impermeable fabric surround and equipped with battery powered fans and HEPA filters on both the intake and exhaust air. They look like astronaut helmets and are reasonably sound from an engineering perspective, though they don’t carry any kind of formal certification. They are also rather heavy, so we don’t tend to wear them outside the grocery store for very long.
3. HEPA filters and open windows at home
We used to live in a small apartment block. It had communal ventilation in the corridor areas, we have an extract vent from our hallway, also from the bathroom, toilet and kitchen. These are driven via fans on the roof, which don’t run/don’t run at full speed all the time. There are cases document in South Korea where Covid-19 spread through the ventilation system across a building from individual apartment to apartment via shared air ducts – there is also a very well documented case from the SARS outbreak in Hong Kong (Amoy Gardens) where the virus spread through the drainage system via water traps that had dried out.
Consequently, we have a couple of large HEPA filters on wheels of which at least 1 was usually running somewhere in our apartment, particularly at night when the building ventilation is running in low power mode. Now we live in a house, but we still keep a HEPA filter on low in the living room and bedroom.
4. Antigen tests for social events
We had a couple of social events once upon a time in the not too distant past. We had real people visit us in our apartment physically instead of via zoom. We agreed our test protocol with them at the invitation stage – our guests took an antigen test just before heading over, and at home we both took tests before they arrived. We are of course very fortunate to have access to a generous supply of antigen tests, and it’s important to remember that they are not 100% reliable, but it’s still a big step towards cutting the risk that someone in the group will be spreading the disease. It is increasingly important to wait the full 15 minutes after doing the test to ensure you don’t have a faint line, which is a telltale sign for the start of a COVID-19 infection. Likewise, we agreed beforehand that if anyone is feeling unwell, or just not quite right, even with a negative test that we’ll reschedule – because it’s no big deal.
5. Meeting outside if possible
Covid-19 is an airborne virus. This means it spreads through the air we breath. Sitting in a poorly ventilated room with someone who is infected is the best way to catch it. However, the virus is still fragile. It is destroyed by high air velocities, easily diluted and destroyed by UV light. Based on the current medical understanding, you can catch Covid-19 in two main ways (here are two analogies I’ve wholeheartedly stolen…):
Garlic Breath – If you can smell someone’s (bad!) breath, then you are actually smelling small aerosolised particles that are coming out of their mouth and nose in a jet of exhaled air. Normally these just contain volatile organic chemicals which we perceive as (unpleasant) smells. But for someone who is shedding Covid-19 virus, it hitches a ride on the same droplets. If you are close enough to smell someone’s breath, then you are in an excellent situation to contract Covid, or any other airborne virus they are shedding. Just like meeting smelly people, it’s always more pleasant to do outside.
Cigarette Smoke– The second way you can catch Covid-19, with a slightly lower risk, is by inhaling the very small aerosolised particles which can remain airborne for a long time (several hours). The best analogy for this type of spread is cigarette smoke. Even if someone isn’t smoking right next to you, it’s easy to tell if a smoker has been in a room, or if someone is smoking in proximity to you. Of course it’s best not to smoke at all, but if you have to then doing it outside has the least consequences for those around you. It’s the same with Covid-19 spread, except of course that you can’t smell virus particles in the air.
While meeting outside doesn’t eliminate these two forms of transmission, it does substantially reduce the risks. The outside typically has at least some airflow to carry away the cigarette smoke and to mitigate the garlic breath, as well as UV which reduces the viability of the virus. Meeting outside is definitely the safest way to do things, assuming the weather cooperates.