By Dr. Alice Delia
World changing events have a habit of sneaking up on us and we only recognize that it was a world changing event afterward. This pandemic is different, we’re already seeing it change a lot of the things we see as normal. Some of these things already exist, like remote working and online learning, but the time frame where these became standard just went from several years to a few months.
So, now we’re learning lots of interesting things about viruses, vaccines, and the gaps in our health care systems. However, there are a lot of other things that we’re not talking about because they seem unimportant next to the looming uncertainty of a pandemic.
How many of you reading this are self-isolating, either voluntarily or because your employer requested or required you to work remotely? Or were you at college and unexpectedly find yourself back in your old bedroom in your parent’s house attending online courses? Or are you abruptly unemployed because your job isn’t essential? Our society is very anxious right now, especially considering all the unknowns we have to deal with. How long, how hazardous, what will the economy do, how will my elderly parents fare, what about my friend with diabetes or congestive heart failure, and so on.
The experts all agree – a healthy diet, exercise, reducing stress, maintaining a positive attitude – these help us maintain good health which is critical in these challenging times. But what about the indoor environment? Now that so many people are staying home (along with spouse, kids, pets, etc.) the dynamic of our home environment has changed dramatically.
In 1980, a report was submitted to Congress titled “Indoor Air Pollution: An Emerging Health Problem.” Although indoor air quality was a concern before this report, it was not a priority and therefore activities were scattered and uncoordinated.
Back to the current situation. For the past 40 years we’ve known indoor air quality has a profound influence on health, yet it’s rarely included in lists like the one above. Think about our situation right now – there are a lot more people at home, they are in the home all the time, there are more or different activities as people find things to keep them occupied, and we’ve all become at least a little germophobic and are constantly using disinfectants to keep all the “high touch” surfaces free of viruses. These changes to the indoor environment guarantee that the indoor air quality has changed as well.
You may be asking yourself, if this has been a problem for 40 years what’s the urgency about it now when we have so many other things to worry about?
Good indoor air quality, i.e., a low level of pollutants, supports good health and as we just discussed good health has a significant impact on how well, or poorly, we fight off disease. On the flip side, poor indoor air quality can cause an array of symptoms, including a dry cough and shortness of breath characteristic of COVID-19, that might cause us to seek medical treatment, further burdening our health care system and taking resources away from those who really need it.
Also, poor indoor air quality is known to affect cognitive functions, including concentration, memory and critical thinking skills. So, if you’re working from home or taking courses on-line to make up for closed schools your performance will suffer.
Definitely something to think about, not just right now but as this world changing event unfolds.
5 Easy Things You Can Do to Improve Your Indoor Environment When Sheltering at Home
- Get some fresh air
- Open your windows, even if only for a few minutes in colder areas. This is especially important when sanitizing or disinfecting since these activities can put a lot of chemicals into the air as well as on surfaces.
- Go outside for a walk (while maintaining physical distancing).
- Contain sources to reduce fugitive emissions
- Place cleaning products and laundry products in a container with a tight-fitting lid when not in use.
- Place personal care products in a container with a tight-fitting lid when not in use.
- Remove unnecessary scented items, e.g., plug in air fresheners, diffusers, scented candles, etc.
- Store paints, solvents, building supplies, fertilizers, herbicides/pesticides outside the home if possible.
- Keep things clean
- Vacuum regularly to keep dust and allergens under control.
- Wipe up condensation or standing water to keep mold from growing; check the drain pan under the refrigerator and make sure the dishwasher drains completely.
- Replace the furnace filter with one having a MERV rating of 11-13.
- Clean out the dryer vent regularly.
- Brush your pet daily to reduce dander.
- Take care of food
- Take trash with discarded food out regularly.
- Rinse beverage containers before placing them in recycling or trash containers.
- Clear the refrigerator of old leftovers and rotting/moldy vegetables regularly.
- Use extra ventilation for activities
- Turn on the stove vent when cooking.
- Turn on the bathroom vent when bathing or using personal care products.
- Turn the HVAC fan on for some extra air circulation, especially when doing art projects with the kids or working on that repair project you’ve been putting off. Avoid larger projects like painting the interior of the home or substantial renovations.