How airborne is Covid-19? Like cigarette smoke spreading in a room — JN Ismail

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MAY 23 — I contracted Covid-19 at my workplace earlier this year, as the administration of my office did not believe in the effectiveness and operational capabilities of staff working from home (WFH). 

Plus, the priority to WFH was given to those who had children under the age of 12. Since I do not have children, I was perceived as not having the urgency or need to WFH. 

I was quarantined at MAEPS, Serdang from January 5-12, 2021. And I was actually expected to return to work on the 13th but fortunately the Malaysian government made the call to impose MCO 2.0. 

Due to my slow recovery state, I worked from home throughout the MCO 2.0 period.

The majority of the people at my workplace thought that Covid-19 patients detained at the Covid-19 Quarantine and Low-Risk Treatment Centre (PKRC) at MAEPS could immediately be back on their feet like a normal healthy person (physically, spiritually and mentally) the moment they are released. 

Well, that is a very wrong and misguided perception. 

Upon my return to the office, I was very surprised to observe how the SOPs recommended by the Ministry of Health were being taken very lightly. 

I came back to work officially on February 27 as I was given long weeks of medical leave by a respiratory specialist because I had inhaled bleach fumes in my office room and floor. 

Initially, I went back to work on the 21st as I had work waiting on my desk. I did not know that the office had used the building cleaners to sanitise my working area using bleach while I was at MAEPS. 

While they were sanitising my office room and floor, the air conditioner was running. And once they were done, the door and the windows of my room were shut tight. 

It didn’t take long for me to be in a state of anaphylactic shock. It was less than 10 minutes sitting at my desk; my chest started to tighten up and saliva was gathering in my mouth and later drooling uncontrollably over my lips. 

I could feel the swelling of my tongue and throat. I went into panic mode and rushed out of the building. It was a good thing that I managed to get a hold of my good friend and she tried her best to calm me down.

My husband rushed me to UMSC, and there I found out that my lungs due to Covid-19, could not tolerate the bleach fumes. 

My health went downhill for weeks right after that incident, and I had to be dependent on a heavy-duty inhaler. I was later diagnosed with Covid-19 bronchitis. Plus, I had to go through a myriad medical examinations to rule out other dangerous possibilities such as blood clots in my lungs as I was having severe difficulty breathing. 

When Selangor came under MCO recently, I remember clearly the cynical remarks and smirks by the head of my department saying that since our office was located in Kuala Lumpur, WFH was not applicable. 

I protested by making it clear that the majority of the staff was coming from Selangor, and most of us were from the District of Petaling (Shah Alam, Klang and PJ) where the Covid-19 cases were soaring angrily. 

The possibility of any one of us contracting the virus was really high as the virus is no longer being spread via droplets only, but is now airborne. 

But unfortunately, my concerns were dismissed and ridiculed, and everyone was required to come to work as usual. 

However, things changed when Kuala Lumpur came under MCO. The administration of my workplace had no choice but to allow us to WFH on a rotation basis. 

As of May 23, three officers (including their family members) and a support staff from my department have tested positive for Covid-19. I did my swab on the 12th after one of the officers informed the office WhatsApp group on the 10th that her entire family was Covid-19 positive. And since then, the virus has been weeding people out at the agency where I am working. 

Despite being tested negative at the first PCR swab test, the nightmare of living my quarantine days at MAEPS and coping with Covid-19 viral myalgia just came crashing into my mind. I am terrified. 

That emotional transition — from fear and uncertainty to gradual acclimatisation — is likely to happen again with Covid-19. 

H1N1 is a very different disease than Covid-19; it was far less deadly and barely disrupted most people’s day-to-day lives. But it’s one way to picture what the social trajectory out of a pandemic can look like. Right now, Covid-19 is still killing people all over the world — the pandemic is still viscerally real

Since last year, several studies have found that the coronavirus SARS-CoV-2 spreads mainly through the air. Yet there have also been other studies, including a recent one funded by the World Health Organization (WHO), that have found the evidence inconclusive. 

Now, a team of experts has looked at available research and published their assessment in The Lancet: that there is strong, consistent evidence that the primary transmission route of SARS-CoV-2 is indeed airborne.

The United States Centers of Disease Control (CDC) on Friday (May 7, 2021) issued a new advisory regarding the transmission of coronavirus disease (Covid-19) and highlighted that there are three primary ways in which a person can contract Covid-19. 

The CDC said that the virus spreads primarily by inhalation, deposition and touching. — Reuters pic
The CDC said that the virus spreads primarily by inhalation, deposition and touching. — Reuters pic

The CDC said that the virus spreads primarily by inhalation, deposition and touching. The CDC advisory says when one inhales the air carrying very small fine droplets or aerosol particles containing the virus, one gets infected.

It highlights that the risk of transmission is greatest within three to six feet of an infected person as the amount of these droplets are very fine in nature. 

It said that these droplets spread through exhalation during activities such as quiet breathing, speaking, singing, exercise, coughing, sneezing and transmitting the infection. 

This means that in enclosed spaces or areas which are poorly ventilated there are increased chances of this disease spreading from one person to another. 

Airborne does not mean it is in the air and wherever you are you can catch it. If there is Covid-19 positive person in a small room or an enclosed space which lacks ventilation and the person coughs, the aerosol remains suspended in the air for 30 minutes to 1 hour.

The Covid-19 pandemic has almost overnight changed the working practices of millions of people around the world. For many people, working from home has become routine for several months while those who have continued in their workplace have had to follow new working practices and procedures aimed at preventing the transmission of infection.

Anyone returning to their workplace – and to educational institutions, cafés, restaurants and shops – will be nervous about becoming infected when they come into closer contact with other people in public areas. Everyone is aware of the risks of infection from airborne particles and the guidelines for social distancing. 

Keeping a set distance apart, however, may not be enough to prevent contaminated particles transferring from infected people to others. Research has shown that the smallest particles can travel farther and remain airborne for much longer than previously thought. 

This means air hygiene is a crucial factor in protecting people in the workplace and other indoor environments and should be included in the package of measures businesses take to prevent transmission of Covid-19. 

It’s also important for employees to see that their air quality is being improved. In an international survey of office workers commissioned by Rentokil Initial in March 2020, over two-thirds of survey respondents said they would feel cared for by their employer if indoor air quality were being monitored or regulated.

As the spread of Covid-19 begins with infected respiratory particles, filtering pathogens from the air will be seen by employers and staff as a reassuring and necessary first step to prevent infection, reduce ill-health and absenteeism and keep them safe at work.

* This is the personal opinion of the writer or publication and does not necessarily represent the views of Malay Mail.

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