7 Ways to Go Green in Spring
Spring is officially here! There isn’t anything better than an abundance of sunshine, warm temperatures and smiling faces. This is the season to not just go green, but to $ave $ome green too!
Here are a few simple changes you can make to reduce your environmental footprint and save money this spring.
1. Declutter Your Life
Get rid of all of your things you own that you don’t want or haven’t used in a year. While “spring cleaning” is not a new phrase, it’s definitely a daunting task to clean out your closet. What do you toss? What do you donate? What can be recycled?
- Keep It. One excellent rule of thumb to remember is if you have used it in the past year, you’ll probably use it again. If you haven’t, you probably won’t. Hang on to the essentials. Also, if it’s not broken, why replace it?
- Donate It. Make a list of your belongings. It’ll show you that your tastes change. Keep unwanted items out of landfills by donating them to Goodwill or asking family and friends if they have any use for them.
- Recycle It. Paper – old mail, magazines, or books – they all can be recycled. Something to think about: A family size of four uses 1.25 tons of paper per year on average. The EPA states that if you recycle one ton of paper, it saves 3.3 cubic yards of landfill space, in addition to enough energy to power the average American home for six months.
- Trash It. Landfills are for items that have no use. When disposing of hazardous materials, be cautious, if the distribution is off, it can cause toxic components that could leach into the soil and groundwater. If something isn’t recyclable, most of the time it can be reused in some creative capacity.
2. Use Natural Cleaning Supplies
You’ve cleared off your countertops and hardwood floors, but there is dirt, grime, and grit from the winter (ick!) all over the floors. How should you clean them?
- Traditional cleaners may be more harmful than good. Many times they are responsible for 10 percent of toxic exposures reported to local poison control centers. “Natural” and “green” cleaning products are available at your local grocery store.
- You, however, can save some money and create your own cleaning product from supplies you already own.
- Spray Cleaner: Combine 2 cups of water, 1/4 cup of white vinegar, 1/4 teaspoon of tea tree oil, and 1/4 teaspoon of lavender oil. Mix ingredients together and store in a spray bottle.
- Deodorizing Cleaner: Mix 1 part vinegar and 1 part water in a spray bottle to clean countertops, floors, stovetops, and other appliances. Try scrubbing dishes, surfaces, and stains with a lemon and this mixture with baking soda for a deep clean.
**Please remember that homemade cleaners may not completely eliminate all bacteria, such as the H1N1 virus. Read the product’s label and follow instructions as noted.**
3. Go for an Energy Upgrade
For many of us, going off the grid isn’t an option (unless your tax return is huge). If you’re looking to save money on your electric bill, here three easy changes you can make:
- Replace incandescent light bulbs with efficient CFLs or LEDs. Americans spend 20 percent of their electricity budget on lighting, period. If you choose energy-efficient lighting, the average household can save over 1,000 kilowatt-hours, 1,600 pounds of carbon dioxide, and up $110 per year in electricity.
- Install a programmable thermostat that automatically adjusts your home’s temp. If the thermostat’s initial cost (approximately $115 or s0) deters you, remember it can help to reduce your energy usage by more than 15 percent during the summer and up to 25 percent in the winter.
- Shade your windows. Window treatments, like light-colored blinds and drapes, can save you up to $210 per year on heating and cooling costs.
4. Wash Your Dirty Car
According to the International Car Wash Association, automatic car washes use less than half of the water used when you wash your car at home. The average home wash uses approximately 80-140 gallons of water, while the automatic car wash is about 45 gallons. Commercial car washes often reuse water and then send it to treatment centers instead of lakes and streams.
If you’re set on washing your car with your kids at home, consider these tips:
- Park on gravel or grass, so soapy water soaks into the ground, becomes filtered, and recharges the groundwater.
- Avoid soaps with labels that say “harmful, danger or poison.”
- Turn off the hose when you’re not using the water.
5. Start Your Compost
Composting is a way to recycle certain materials and scraps from your kitchen and turn them into a soil for home gardens. The EPA estimates that each American throws away an average of approximately 1.3 pounds of food scraps daily. This makes up 24 percent of our municipal solid waste. Items like food scraps, grass clippings, plant cuttings, dry leaves, hay, straw, simple paper products, crush eggshells, coffee grounds, sawdust, and wood clippings can go into the compost. Knowing what items go into a compost is essential for a successful outcome.
6. Plant the Garden You’ve Always Wanted
There’s nothing better than fresh fruit and vegetables from a garden… this year, make it your garden! Find a spot with plenty of sunshine, enrich the soil with compost (see tip #5) and fill it with things you love. A garden puts your favorite fruit and vegetables at your fingertips and can save you time (and gas too!) going to the grocery store.
7. Get Your Fitness On
Take steps to improve your health this season by increasing physical activity! While there are many forms of exercise and gyms to join, a good place to start is something most of us already do every day… WALK! Breathe in the fresh air on a daily walk and encourage your friends or family to come along too – just remember to socially distance yourself from people outside of your household! If you’re running local errands, consider riding a bicycle because it’s great exercise and helps to reduce pollutants from car exhaust.
For more tips, stay tuned to our blog here at St. Anne’s!
While your holiday will probably be different this year, we’re still asking the same question: do the gift wrap, tissue paper, and gift boxes go in the trash?
Regardless of if it’s the holiday season or any other time of year, sustainability starts at the beginning of the cart. Consider these tips:
- Encourage minimal gift exchanges such as a Secret Santa or white elephant gift experience.
- Reduce waste by giving someone an e-gift card or reloading an existing gift card.
- Get crafty and create DIY gifts, such as centerpieces, apothecary containers, etc. They can easily be personalized.
- Select items with recyclable packaging.
- When shopping, use your reusable bag.
- Reuse boxes from online purchases as gift boxes.
- Give rechargeable batteries (with the charging station) for toys that require batteries.
- Use a reusable face mask. Avoid placing masks, wipes, and gloves in the recycling container.
- Give a gift that may benefit charities, especially those impacted by the pandemic.
- Shop sustainably.
You’ve shopped sustainably. You’ve checked off your list and you’ve wrapped your gifts. Now it’s time to wrap the gifts.
- Purchase gift wrap made with recycled materials that can also be recycled.
- Wrap gifts in gift bags. Place a “Green It Forward” note inside asking the recipient of the bag to pass the bag and note along to the next recipient.
- Give existing materials a second life as gift wrap.
- Don’t use gift tags, tissue paper, and bows. They do not recycle.
For more information, recyclingpartnership.org
America Recycles Day is on November 15 each year and is the only nationally-recognized day “dedicated to promoting and celebrating recycling in the United States.”
This year, the EPA recognizes our nation’s progress with recycling, and how it affects American prosperity. The recycling rate has “more than tripled over the last 30 years to the current rate of 35 percent.”
This growth helps to create an abundance of jobs and wages for Americans and support community development. The most recent data says that “recycling and reuse activities in the U.S. created 757,000 jobs and produced $36 billion in wages in a single year.”
A few GREEN tips for the office:
- Instead of printing hard copies of documents, save them to your hard drive or email to yourself to save paper
- Change your printer settings to be more environmentally-friendly. Set to double-sided, use smaller point fonts when possible, and the “fast draft” setting to help save ink
- Opt for paying bills online when possible to save paper
- Reuse envelopes with metal clasps and file folders by sticking a new label over the previous one
Interesting Recycling Facts
- 60 percent of trash could be recycled
- Aluminum cans can be recycled endlessly
- 80 billion aluminum cans are used each year around the world
- 500,000 trees are cut down just to produce the Sunday newspapers each week
- Each American uses almost 700 pounds of paper each year – most of which is just thrown away
- Americans throw away over 25 trillion Styrofoam cups per year
- 5 million plastic bottles are used in the U.S. every hour — most of which are not recycled
- Plastic bags in the oceans kill a million sea creatures per year
The holidays are approaching us quickly and the COVID-19 pandemic is something that may alter our holiday gatherings this year. Holiday gatherings can be an opportunity to reconnect with family and friends. However, this year, consider ways to modify your gatherings to reduce the spread of COVID-19 amongst your loved ones.
Celebrating virtually or with only members of your household pose the lowest risk of spread. However, we realize that some will continue holding holiday gatherings. Here are a few tips to reduce the spread and keep your loved ones safe.
Considerations for Hosting or Attending Gatherings
- Check the local infection rates in the area you’re visiting. Based on the current status in the area you’re in, consider if it is truly safe to hold or attend the event.
- Try to limit the number of attendees, so that people can remain at least 6 feet apart. Guests should avoid any direct contact: handshakes, hugs, etc.
- Hold your gathering outdoors instead of indoors. Even outdoors, require your guests to wear masks when not eating or drinking.
- Set up an open-air tent, so that guests can still practice social distancing.
- Encourage attendees to wash their hands often with soap and water. Provide hand sanitizer.
Food and drink at Holiday Gatherings
- Encourage guests to bring food and drinks for themselves and members of their household only. Avoid any pot-luck gatherings.
- Consider wearing a mask when preparing and serving food.
- Try single-serve options or have one person serve shareable items, like salad dressings, food containers, plates, and utensils.
For more information on Holiday Celebrations and Small Gatherings, please visit the CDC website here.
When using Sani-Cloth hand wipes, remember to use each sheet until it’s dry, and make sure to keep the canister lid closed until the next use. You may also want to take advantage of multi-use, reusable cloth wipes instead of paper towels. They are great because they are:
- Reusable, durable, dry cleaning cloths
- Superabsorbent and multi-purpose uses
- Machine washable, for multiple uses
- Rinse and reuse up to 20 times
- An alternative to paper towels, rags, and sponges
A blog post from www.eater.com talks about why kitchen towels are so useful. Read more below.
By Lesley Suter
I have a paper towel problem. In a normal week, I tear through two to three of those jumbo-size rolls that barely fit on the countertop holder. I use them to clean up small messes, big messes, non-messes, every mess. I use them to dry my hands after each little rinse in the kitchen sink. I use them as dinner napkins, as makeshift plates, like Kleenex. And mostly I use them to wipe the schmutz off every square inch of my two children multiple times per day.
I am acutely aware that using so many paper towels is wasteful and killing trees and makes all the other small eco-moves I do (Beeswax wraps! Glass containers!) seem hypocritical. But yet, paper towels are ever-so-easy and hygienic and convenient and, under normal circumstances, readily available. Parents get it — we discuss our rampant paper towel use with the same hushed tones and side winks that we do when divulging our dependence on screen time and prescription edibles.
For years, every time I tore through those little select-a-size perforations (note: the correct size is always three) I felt a twinge of shame — an emotion that, as it turns out, was for naught because the novel coronavirus has finally exposed the American public for the selfish, paper towel addicted monsters they really are. We are a nation of roll hoarders.
So, as is the case with many aspects of modern life in the wake of COVID-19, I’m being forced to adapt. And out of the ashes of my crumpled paper towel heap has arisen an unexpected new savior: The humble kitchen towel. I’ve always had stacks of these thin, stiff, mismatched strips of fabric stuffed in a drawer, which I would break out from time to time to literally dry a dish, but that was about it. Now, with my multi-purpose disposable crutch unavailable, kitchen towels have emerged as an essential part of my kitchen — and honestly, life — toolbox. Here’s why:
They clean things
I don’t know why I had it in my head that kitchen towels are only for drying things. They also sop and scrub and, when damp, actually clean pretty great! Just as before I can spray my countertop cleaner of choice and wipe a dish towel over it like one would a paper towel or a sponge — a disgusting, unsanitary sponge.
But they do so much more than clean things!
Need to wring the moisture out of shredded potatoes or zucchini? Twist it in a dishtowel. Need to cover (but not seal) some proofing dough or steamed rice? Drape a kitchen towel over it. Is lettuce too wet? Dab it with that towel. A couple of wadded-up (and dry!) towels work just super as pot holders, and folded over they’re great makeshift trivets. The use of kitchen towels as table napkins has been well-documented, but now I actually tie one around my kids’ neck, tape the other end to the counter, and make a scoop bib for catching dribbles.
This seems obvious, but it didn’t really hit home until I started using them regularly. I can run a damp towel under my kid’s chair to snag all the gross cheerio crumbs and old wrinkly peas that are under there, take it to the sink, rinse it out, let it dry, and it’s good to clean something else gross and horrible in an hour or so. Plus, at the end of each night, I just grab all the rinsed sullied towels, throw them in the washing machine, and they’re ready for the next days’ worth of destruction.
They look great
Paper towels are about as good for your decor as they are for the environment — but kitchen towels can make a statement. There are all kinds of cute designer patterns available, or you can go classic with the bistro-chic white with a red stripe. I recently discovered I own six different variations of cat-themed towels, so there’s that!
So, have kitchen towels totally cured me of my paper towel addiction? God, no. Not even close. But do I now look at all those weird rags shoved in my kitchen drawer in a whole new light? Yes, sure. Scrub away!
When it comes to important paperwork, sometimes it can be difficult to know what documents to save and why. From financial documents, insurance policies, to invoices and receipts, what do you need to hold onto and what can you toss?
Most insurance policies are different, but there are some that should be saved past their expiration date. Those may include auto, homeowners, and umbrella policies.
If you’ve picked up a lawsuit following an auto accident, a lawsuit that occurs during your policy isn’t required to be filed “until before the statute of limitations tolls.” Normally, the statute runs anywhere from 1-3 years, depending on where you are located.
Sometimes there are special cases in which a minor is involved. In this event, the open period for lawsuits is extended until the minor reaches 18 years old. Of course, there can be exceptions that will postpone the start date of the period of limitations, when a previous injury is discovered. For example, in continuing tobacco litigations, there are some liability policies dating back to the 1940s.
With this noted, it makes sense to save your insurance policy documents; with the most cautious individuals, most would save them for 21 years or longer.
INVOICES & RECEIPTS FOR PAID BILLS
Any receipt or invoice that helps to corroborate a tax deduction should be saved. If you’ve purchased any expensive, keep those receipts. They will help with proving your claim with an insurance company. Additionally, you should keep appraisals that were used to establish value under an insurance policy. Receipts and invoices for any home improvement projects, such as a new roof, landscaping, etc., should be saved for tax purposes. They help to enhance the value of your home.
BANK & CREDIT CARD RECORDS
Bank and credit card records should be saved for at least 6 years, experts say, in case you were to get hit for proof of payment for any previous purchase. Any lawsuits that are filed due to breach of contract is usually not required by the statute of limitations until 6 years has ended; however, these laws vary from state to state. Some experts will say to add an extra year, and also recommend saving canceled checks and other related documents, for seven years. It also depends on how much space you have to save these documents.
EMPLOYEE BENEFIT PLANS, PENSIONS, AND OTHER FRINGE BENEFITS
By saving these records, you have documents to prove what benefits you are entitled to, to monitor any changes made to the plans, and to have a record of what you’re entitled to.
OTHER ADVICE AND INFORMATION
If you have complicated tax returns or extensive holdings, you may want to consult an accountant about record retention, and even potentially a financial advisor later on. If you decide to throw out any records, be sure to use a paper shredder, so criminals will not be able to get a hold of your personal information.
Source: Herbert S. Denenberg, Ph.D., a consumer and investigative reporter for NBC-10, WCAU-TV, Philadelphia from his column, ‘On Your Side.’ Dr. Denenberg also served as Pennsylvania Insurance Commissioner and a member of the Pennsylvania Public Utility Commission during the 1970s.
Single-use masks could be a coronavirus hazard if we don’t dispose of them properly.
Many people have already been wearing masks for some time in a bid to protect themselves and others from COVID-19. Evidence has shown masks likely do reduce the spread of COVID-19, so wearing them is a good and ethical thing to do, but one conversation we’re not having enough is around how to safely dispose of single-use masks. Disposing of used masks or gloves incorrectly could risk spreading the infection they’re designed to protect against.
While reusable cloth masks are an option if you’ve been able to buy one or even make one yourself, disposable, single-use surgical masks appear to be a popular choice. They provide protection and they’re cheap and convenient. It’s estimated the global use and disposal of masks and gloves will amount to 129 billion face masks and 65 billion plastic gloves for every month of the COVID-19 pandemic. The effect on the environment is an important but separate issue to the health risks we’re discussing here.
Alarmingly, from what we’ve observed, people are discarding masks in communal trash bins and even leaving them in empty shopping carts. Incorrectly disposing of masks could create a risk of infection for others. People should know better than to leave used masks lying around, but they can’t be expected not to discard them in public bins when there’s no other option, and when they’re not given any advice on how to dispose of them properly. While there are clear guidelines on the disposal and separation of medical waste within healthcare settings, guidelines for disposal of surgical masks in public settings are unclear.
The Australian government simply advises they be disposed of “responsibly in the trash bin”, meaning they will be mixed with ordinary waste. This is in contrast to personal protective equipment (PPE) used in health-care settings, which is disposed of separately to regular waste, transported to sealed landfill, and in some cases incinerated.
We don’t yet know a whole lot about the survival of SARS-CoV-2, the coronavirus that causes COVID-19, on textile materials. One study published in the medical journal The Lancet found no infectious SARS-CoV-2 could be detected on textile materials after 48 hours. A review study which looked at the survival of a range of pathogens on textiles found viruses could survive longer than 48 hours, though not as long as bacteria. Although we need more research on this topic, it seems there is potential for cross-contamination, and therefore possibly COVID-19 infection, from disposed masks. In addition, if the discarded mask is carrying infectious particles, it may be possible for these to cross-contaminate the surfaces they come into contact with, such as shopping carts. And we know SARS-CoV-2 survives more readily on hard surfaces than porous ones, so this is a worry.
The safest thing to do is to put used masks and gloves into a plastic bag when you take them off, and seal it. Then, when you’re back at home, throw the bag away into a closed bin.
Source: The Conversation, www.theconversation.com
Whether it’s the annual flu season or a pandemic like COVID-19, St. Anne’s understands the value of wearing masks and the impact they have on the health of our Residents and staff. Our campus has been closed to outside visitors since March, and since that time, masks have been required within our community. The importance of masks in reducing SARS-CoV2 infections in our communities is explained in the article below.
What’s the Deal with Masks?
Adapted from the article published on May 29, 2020 by Erin Bromage
Masks should not be a political issue. They are a public health issue. But they seem to have stirred up a whole mess of fuss for various reasons.
When we breathe, talk, yell, sing, cough or sneeze we release respiratory droplets. Tiny balls of mucus that go speeding out our mouth and nose and into the air around us. Those tiny little mucus balls can package up all sorts of fun things – for example, bacteria and viruses. Bacteria are by far the easier ones to see.
Viruses are a little harder to measure. You need to catch the droplets and put them in a tissue culture plate containing cells that will allow the virus to grow. The presence of virus in respiratory droplets of infected people has been demonstrated by many labs around the world.
When we speak, those tiny little respiratory droplets are projected forward from our mouth. Hard letters, such a “P” and “K” and “T” project droplets further than the softer letters in our alphabet. The large droplets (100um) hit the ground within 3 feet, the smaller ones within about 6 feet, while the smallest of all (known as the droplet nuclei) can travel great distances. The breathing zone (0-6 feet away) is the high-risk zone for potential infection. If you are within that range, you are inhaling respiratory droplets from the person with whom you are speaking. Outside of that range, the only concern is the smaller droplet nuclei.
The size of the large droplets allow more virus to be packed inside them. In contrast, the small droplet nuclei may only have a few infectious viral particles in each one. However, being smaller doesn’t necessarily mean they are safer. Smaller particles, when inhaled, can travel deeper into the lungs than the larger particles – and then find a home in the receptive lung tissue, more easily initiating infection.
Face-to-face conversations are one of the riskiest things you can do when there is an infectious respiratory disease running rampant in your community. It’s even more worrisome when we are facing a respiratory pathogen like SARS-CoV2 that is infectious for up to 5 days before the symptoms show (sub-clinical infectious period).
- The closer you are to another human, the more risky your conversation or interaction.
- Staying 6 feet away allows all the larger droplets to hit the floor.
- Your risk is primarily the virus contained in the droplet nuclei, but the further you are away the more they are dispersed in the surrounding air, resulting in a lower dose, and a lower risk.
- The longer you speak face-to-face with someone, the more chance there is to accumulate an infectious dose of virus.
Location: Indoors vs. Outdoors
- Respiratory droplets still hit the ground at the same speed indoors and outdoors. What changes is the distance they travel before hitting the ground.
- Wind and air conditioning can push the larger droplets further from the person talking.
- Pay attention to the direction wind or A/C is blowing. Try to speak cross breeze, if at all possible, so the air pushes the droplets away from both of you and not to towards either of you.
- Wearing a mask while breathing, talking, yelling, coughing or sneezing catches respiratory droplets leaving your mouth and nose.
- Even with the most basic mask, virtually 100% of the large and medium-sized droplets are caught on the inside fabric surface.
- As the masks increase in quality, the amount of small respiratory droplets and droplet nuclei that get caught on the inside surface increases. Quality includes:
- How well it fits your face
- How much air passes through the fabric (versus up past your eyes/glasses)
- The type of fabrics included in the breathing area of the mask
**Wash your mask regularly with soap and water, especially if you are wearing for extended periods.**
Despite all the publications on mask use, there are no hard and fast numbers to provide because each mask and the way people wear them, is different. At a minimum, it is believed a good mask will reduce 50% of emissions from the mask-wearer. Multi-layered mixed fabric masks approach filtering efficiencies as high as 90%.
There is no clear evidence to indicate that cloth masks will protect you from inhaling the smallest infected respiratory droplets (those droplet nuclei) from another person. The primary purpose of a cloth mask, when worn by everyone, is to serve as a control for source emissions. If we lower the respiratory droplets coming out of us, we can substantially lower the amount of virus put into the air, thereby lowering the risk to everyone.
My mask protects you. Your mask protects me.
Successful Infection = (Exposure to Virus) x (Time)
If we can decrease the amount of virus released into the air in droplets through wearing masks, we will increase the time in which we can have safer face-to-face conversations
The risk for infection increases in shared spaces increases with:
- The more people that are in that space
- The longer time we spend in that space
- Indoor spaces are more risky than outdoor spaces (due to lack of air exchange indoors)
What role do masks have in indoor spaces?
Indoor spaces allow for the virus to accumulate in the air if there is not adequate air filtration and exchange.
In indoor environments with poor air exchange and filtration, the infected respiratory droplets can spread throughout the room, build up in the air, and, after a sufficient length of time, people sharing that space can inhale enough of a viral load to become infected. However, with mask use, the respiratory emissions are lowered, and you are provided with a greater period of time before reaching an infectious dose. The better the quality of the mask, the greater reduction in respiratory emissions and the longer you can spend in the indoor space safely.
If you spend a lot of time in shared spaces, what can you do?
- Invest in high quality masks. Look for a mask that has a multi-layer multi-fabric design and an adjustable nose bridge to seal the top part of the mask to your face. The more of your exhaled air that is forced to pass through the mask fabric, the greater the filtering respiratory droplets will be caught inside the mask, and everyone is safer.
- Improve the intake of outside air – the more air you can exchange with outside, the lower the viral burden in your space.
- Improve the filtration – some HVAC systems can be easily upgraded to have high quality filters included in the system. Potentially upgrade with UV. Consider purchasing portable HEPA filtration systems for smaller spaces where the central system may not be adequate (therapy offices, treatment rooms etc).
- Masks are part of the solution to reduce the release of infectious virus into the environment, but they are not 100% effective.
- Social distancing works when outdoors and in brief indoor encounters, but distance alone, while indoors, does not protect you from infection.
Face mask use is a social contract.
My mask protects you. Your mask protects me.
Face masks are not perfect and they need to be used in conjunction with other measures to lower risk of infection such as physical distancing and hand washing. There is ample evidence to suggest that widespread use of masks results in significant reductions in the transmission of respiratory viruses. Mask use is grounded in biology and can have a real world and meaningful effect on slowing the spread of infection, protecting your coworkers, and those vulnerable members in your community.
- Can my fabric masks protect me as well?
Yes, some brands provide filtering capacity on exhalation and inhalation, but their effectiveness comes down to how well they fit your face and the material used.
- Should I wear a mask with valves?
Masks with valves allow the ejection of your respiratory droplets out through the air port. Possibly at a higher velocity than normal breathing and therefore dispersing the droplets further. While the filter in the port does protect you from infection and the masks do catch your largest droplets, they are not the best option when we are considering a community-minded approach to mask use.
- Why not wear a N95 or KN95?
These high quality respirators provide excellent protection on both exhalation and inhalation, but only if they are fitted properly, and they are not easy to fit properly. All air must pass through the respirator material and the vast majority of people wearing them do not wear them correctly.
To read the full article with graphics, visit https://www.erinbromage.com/post/what-s-the-deal-with-masks
As counties in Pennsylvania and other states begin a phased reopening plan, many people are concerned about the continued spread of COVID-19 or another spike in cases. While health officials stress the importance of handwashing and wearing masks, we want to share highlights of an article that can guide you away from situations of high risk.
COVID-19: The Risks – Know Them – Avoid Them
Published on May 6, 2020 by Erin S. Bromage, Ph.D.
Where are people getting sick?
We know most people get infected in their own home. A household member contracts the virus in the community and brings it into the house where sustained contact between household members leads to infection.
In order to get infected, you need to get exposed to an infectious dose of the virus; based on infectious dose studies with other coronaviruses, it appears that only small doses may be needed for infection to take hold. Some experts estimate that as few as 1000 SARS-CoV2 infectious viral particles are all that will be needed. Please note, this still needs to be determined experimentally, but we can use that number to demonstrate how infection can occur. Infection could occur, through 1000 infectious viral particles you receive in one breath or from one eye-rub, or 100 viral particles inhaled with each breath over 10 breaths, or 10 viral particles with 100 breaths. Each of these situations can lead to an infection.
How much Virus is released into the environment?
A Bathroom: Bathrooms have a lot of high touch surfaces, door handles, faucets, stall doors and the transfer risk in this environment can be high. We still do not know whether a person releases infectious material in feces or just fragmented virus, but we do know that toilet flushing does aerosolize many droplets. Treat public bathrooms with extra caution (surface and air), until we know more about the risk.
A Cough: A single cough releases about 3,000 droplets and droplets travels at 50 miles per hour. Most droplets are large, and fall quickly (gravity), but many do stay in the air and can travel across a room in a few seconds.
A Sneeze: A single sneeze releases about 30,000 droplets, with droplets traveling at up to 200 miles per hour. Most droplets are small and travel great distances (easily across a room). If a person is infected, the droplets in a single cough or sneeze may contain as many as 200,000,000 (two hundred million) virus particles which can all be dispersed into the environment around them.
A Breath: A single breath releases 50 – 5000 droplets. Most of these droplets are low velocity and fall to the ground quickly. There are even fewer droplets released through nose-breathing. Importantly, due to the lack of exhalation force with a breath, viral particles from the lower respiratory areas are not expelled. Unlike sneezing and coughing which release huge amounts of viral material, the respiratory droplets released from breathing only contain low levels of virus.
Remember the formula: Successful Infection = Exposure to Virus x Time
- If a person coughs or sneezes, the viral particles go everywhere. If you are face-to-face with a person, having a conversation, and that person sneezes or coughs straight at you, it is possible to inhale 1,000 virus particles and become infected. Even if that cough or sneeze was not directed at you, infectious viral particles can fill every corner of a modest sized room. All you have to do is enter that room within a few minutes, take a few breaths and you have potentially received enough virus to establish an infection.
- With general breathing of 20 viral particles per minute into the environment, even if every virus ended up in your lungs (which is very unlikely), you would need 1000 viral particles divided by 20 per minute = 50 minutes.
- Speaking increases the release of respiratory droplets about 10-fold. Assuming every virus is inhaled, it would take 5 minutes of speaking face-to-face to receive the required dose.
- Anyone you spend greater than 10 minutes with in a face-to-face situation is potentially infected. Anyone who shares a space with you (say an office) for an extended period is potentially infected.
- It is critical for people who are symptomatic to stay home. Your sneezes and your coughs expel so much virus that you can infect a whole room of people.
What is the role of asymptomatic people in spreading the virus?
Symptomatic people are not the only way the virus is shed. We know that at least 44% of all infections occur from people without any symptoms (asymptomatic or pre-symptomatic people). You can be shedding the virus into the environment for up to 5 days before symptoms begin.
Infectious people come in all ages, and they all shed different amounts of virus. The amount of virus released from an infected person changes over the course of infection and it is also different from person-to-person. Viral load generally builds up to the point where the person becomes symptomatic. Just prior to symptoms showing, you are releasing the most virus into the environment.
Ignoring the terrible outbreaks in nursing homes, we find that the biggest outbreaks are in prisons, religious ceremonies, and workplaces, such as meat packing facilities and call centers. Any environment that is enclosed, with poor air circulation and high density of people, spells trouble.
As we move back to work, or go to a restaurant, let’s look at what can happen in those environments:
- Restaurants: A single asymptomatic carrier releases low-levels of virus into the air from their breathing. Because of the airflow from vents, approximately 50% of the people at the infected person’s table became sick, 75% of the people on the adjacent downwind table became infected and a few of the people on the upwind table were infected (believed to happen by turbulent airflow). No one out of the main airflow from the air conditioner became infected.
- Call Center: A single infected employee infected 43.5% of the workplace (mostly one side of the room). While the exact number of people infected by respiratory droplets / respiratory exposure versus surface transmission is unknown, it serves to highlight that being in an enclosed space, sharing the same air for a prolonged period increases your chances of exposure and infection.
- Meat Processing Plant: Densely packed workers must communicate to one another amidst the deafening drum of industrial machinery and a cold-room virus-preserving environment.
- Business Networking: Face-to-face business networking
- Choir: A single asymptomatic carrier infected most of the people in attendance after singing inside for 2.5 hours – even though people took steps to minimize transfer (ex. no hugging or handshakes). Singing, to a greater degree than talking, aerosolizes respiratory droplets extraordinarily well. Deep-breathing while singing facilitated those respiratory droplets getting deep into the lungs.
- Indoor sports: A sporting event brings athletes and teammates in close contact in a cool indoor environment, with heavy breathing for an extended period.
- Birthday parties / funerals: An infected person shares a takeout meal served from common dishes and then attends a funeral, hugging family members and others in attendance to express condolences the next day. He also attended a birthday party where he hugged and shared food with other people. The spread of the virus within the household and back out into the community through funerals, birthdays, and church gatherings is believed to be responsible for the broad transmission of COVID-19.
Commonality of Outbreaks
The reason to highlight these different outbreaks is to show you the commonality of outbreaks of COVID-19. All these infection events were indoors, with people closely-spaced, with lots of talking, singing, or yelling. The main sources for infection are home, workplace, public transport, social gatherings, and restaurants. This accounts for 90% of all transmission events. In contrast, outbreaks spread from shopping appear to be responsible for a small percentage of traced infections.
Indoor spaces, with limited air exchange or recycled air and lots of people, are concerning from a transmission standpoint. Social distancing guidelines don’t hold in indoor spaces where you spend a lot of time. The principle is viral exposure over an extended period of time.
Social distancing rules are really to protect you with brief exposures or outdoor exposures. In these situations, there is not enough time to achieve the infectious viral load when you are standing 6 feet apart or where wind and the infinite outdoor space for viral dilution reduces viral load. The effects of sunlight, heat, and humidity on viral survival, all serve to minimize the risk to everyone when outside.
When assessing the risk of infection (via respiration) at the grocery store or mall, you need to consider the volume of the air space (very large), the number of people (restricted), how long people are spending in the store (workers – all day; customers – an hour). Taken together, for a person shopping: the low density, high air volume of the store, along with the restricted time you spend in the store, means that the opportunity to receive an infectious dose is low. But, for the store worker, the extended time they spend in the store provides a greater opportunity to receive the infectious dose and therefore the job becomes riskier.
As the work closures are loosened, and we start to venture out more, you need to look at your environment, make judgments and assess the risk:
- How many people are here?
- How much airflow is there around me?
- How long will I be in this environment?
- Am I in an open floorplan office? What’s the of volume of people and airflow?
- Does my job require face-to-face talking or yelling?
- Am I sitting in a well-ventilated space with few people? (low risk)
If you are outside, and walk past someone, remember it is “dose and time” needed for infection. You would have to be in their airstream for 5+ minutes for a chance of infection. While joggers may be releasing more virus due to deep breathing, remember the exposure time is also less due to their speed. Please do maintain physical distance, but the risk of infection in these scenarios are low.
While this article focused on respiratory exposure here, please don’t forget surfaces. Those infected respiratory droplets land somewhere. Wash your hands often and stop touching your face!
As we are allowed to move around our communities more freely and be in contact with more people in more places more regularly, the risks to ourselves and our family are significant. Do your part and wear a mask to reduce what you release into the environment. It will help everyone.
To read the full article and see graphs associated with the author’s research, please visit https://www.erinbromage.com/post/the-risks-know-them-avoid-them
As we exercise our individual and collective responsibility to reduce viral transmissions to preserve human health, we can still exercise our responsibility to act for environmental health. We can use this solitary time to reassess our current habits and develop new ones that are better for the planet.
Here are ways to take action for the planet while social distancing — we hope they’ll stick, even after our global health crisis subsides.
Go plant-based and compost:
When you’re stuck in your house, time is your friend. Now is the time to get creative and break those food ruts! Maybe you made a resolution to eat more plants this year, or maybe you just want to boost your immune system with an abundance of vitamin-rich fruits and vegetables. Either way, now is the time to get creative with your cooking.
Try some new plant-based recipes — Non-perishable foods, like canned or dry beans and rice, are easy to prepare and nutritious. It’s always important to save leftovers and reduce food waste, and this is an especially good time to be making the most of what you have. If you have any produce that has gone bad and you can’t use, try composting. You can compost in a tupperware and store it in your freezer, under the sink, on a balcony, wherever!
Reading over streaming:
Reading is good for the mind, the soul and it turns out, the planet: A pastime like reading easily replaces streaming, which is notoriously carbon-intensive. So, dust off that massive book you’ve been meaning to read, and get to work. Also, if you’re craving sports amid a “sports-less” pandemic, why not crack open a biography about your favorite athlete or sports moment? Since libraries are closed, opt for an e-book through your library’s digital platform.
When life gives you lemons… make disinfectants:
When trying to fight a very contagious virus, cleaning products and disinfectants are our best friends. Whether it might be because your store is out of stock, or because you enjoy natural solutions, you can skip the harsh chemical sprays in favor of safer alternatives. Plus, they’re probably already in your pantry.
If you’re making homemade disinfectant solutions, sprays and wipes using hydrogen peroxide and alcohol, just make sure your mix is 70% alcohol, and leave it to dry on its own. White vinegar and vodka are power cleaners, easily cutting through grease and removing mildew, odors, stains and wax buildup. For surfaces that need to be cleaned — but not sterile — lemons can also be used to clean non-porous surfaces. For extra points, reuse existing spray bottles in your home instead of buying new ones!
Switch to green power:
Did you know you may have a green power option available? Not everyone can put up solar panels or connect to a windmill, but more and more electric utilities are offering green power options, where you can sign up to get some, most or all of your electricity from renewable energy sources. While some utilities may charge a small premium, you likely will find savings in your bill over time. Contact your local electric utility today — it will be worth it.
Take stock, and make stock:
Being stuck at home allows us to take stock of what we already have, and what we don’t need more of. You might be surprised to find that those jeans you had crammed in the back of your closet are back in style. Knowing what you already have can prevent you from making impulse or unnecessary purchases in the future, thus reducing your consumer footprint in the long-run.
Also, everyone’s always telling you to “use your vegetable scraps to make stock” — now you finally have the time to do it! Throw all your veggie scraps into a pot, add some dried-up and forgotten herbs you found at the back of your fridge (just me?), add water and let them simmer away for a few hours. Strain and use this stock to make some soul-comforting dishes like ramen, risotto or just plain soup.
Start a garden exchange:
Start a neighborhood garden or seed exchange, as well as a repurposed wood (for building raised garden beds) and dirt swaps, with your neighbors — now we’re growing our spring gardens together, but separately. To ensure safe social distancing, exchange seeds, wood and dirt by leaving them in front of homes, or set up times to exchange them in a safe manner.
Keep your body moving:
Social distancing doesn’t mean we have to stay indoors all day. Take 20 minutes to get outdoors and take a walk around the block, explore new trails or go for a bike ride. Many of these spaces allow you to connect with others from a safe distance. Spending time in nature, especially among trees, significantly reduces stress and anxiety, improves mood, energy, sleep and boosts the immune system.
Compliments of The Green Committee at St. Anne’s