So, the world’s changed since the last edition of this newsletter. I hope you and your loved ones are all healthy and safe.
The response here in the U.S. has been a debacle and the consequences are likely to be dire. The outbreak has laid a lot of things bare, including the shortcomings of our federal government, the holes in our public health policies, and the failures of our social safety net (to the extent that we even have one).
It’s also highlighted, in the worst possible way, the connection between the built environment and human health. Pathogens can be carried through indoor HVAC systems and can survive on some surfaces for days. Buildings can serve as an infrastructure that helps the virus spread — or, if we take the right steps, an infrastructure that helps us combat it.
What Can We Do?
A lot! For starters: Wash. Your. Damn. Hands. Stay at home as much as you can and keep your distance from other people. But you have (I hope!) heard all this before. I’m not a doctor or epidemiologist, but I do know a few things about infectious disease and the built environment. And there are changes we can make to our indoor environments that can help us curb the spread of Covid-19.
One irony of an infectious-disease outbreak is that it turns hospitals, which should be a refuge for the sick, into hot zones, putting everyone inside at risk. But a silent culprit tends to be overlooked. It is not the patients or the staff or the visitors. It is the building itself. Thoughtful modifications to the built environment — to how health-care facilities are designed, operated and maintained — could help curb the spread of infectious disease, reducing the toll of future outbreaks as well as the covid-19 pandemic raging today.
For more, click through to the full story.
Even if you don’t run a hospital (and I assume most of you do not), some of the same lessons apply to other buildings as well, including our homes. In addition to keeping your home clean — the CDC has some useful guidelines — you might want to consider some of the other strategies I outline in the story. (Please note: I am not a doctor. This is for informational purposes only and is not intended as medical advice. Please consult your doctor if you have questions or concerns about your own health or a medical condition.)
Crack a window: Bringing in more outdoor air, which likely has a low viral load, can dilute the concentration of pathogens in indoor air.
Let the sun shine in: There’s some evidence that sunlight can inactivate some microbes. Though we don’t know if that’s true of this new virus, letting more daylight into your home is unlikely to hurt (and has myriad other benefits, including boosting mood and improving sleep).
Turn on a humidifier: Studies suggest that coronaviruses are less likely to survive, and spread through the air, when the air is relatively humid. Again, we don’t know if that is true of this specific virus, but bumping up the humidity, if you can, might be something to think about. (Super high humidity can encourage mold growth, however, so experts suggest trying to maintain indoor air at somewhere between 40 and 60 percent humidity.)
If you’ve been lucky enough to snag hand sanitizer, keep it — and any other cleaning supplies you may be using — somewhere highly visible and accessible, where you’re likely to see it, and use it, often.
Joseph Allen, who directs the Healthy Buildings program at Harvard, also has a helpful piece on Covid-19 and the built environment. The Center for Active Design, in New York, has also outlined some ways we can modify our buildings to slow the spread of the disease.
Indoor Ephemera: Coronavirus Edition
Curbed has a great piece on how we’ve used architecture and design to combat past epidemics. (Also from Curbed: “What the 1918 pandemic can teach cities about public spaces today.”)
Covid-19 is yet another argument against open offices.
When you’re doing all that handwashing, maybe skip the electric dryer?
Also, beware of air purifier companies who are “making misleading claims about their products.”
Social distancing is vital, but it’s likely to have side effects of its own: “[j]ust as the coronavirus fallout threatens to cause an economic recession, it’s also going to cause what we might call a ‘social recession’: a collapse in social contact that is particularly hard on the populations most vulnerable to isolation and loneliness — older adults and people with disabilities or preexisting health conditions.”
People who live in public housing are likely to be hard hit, too.
This short piece of speculative fiction imagines how a future pandemic might change urban design.
Finally, something lovely.
Bonus Interspecies Animal Content
We need it now more than ever.
Stay safe out there,