Is It Time to Ditch the Plastic Barriers?


    You’ve likely gone to a grocery store, restaurant, or other public space and seen plastic or plexiglass barriers set up to keep customers or staff safe. If you’re running a business, you may have even set them up yourself. But as it turns out, the barriers may not be all that helpful; they may even be harmful.

    Scientists who study air flow and ventilation, speaking to the New York Times recently, said the barriers may be giving people a false sense of security, as Covid-19 is primarily spread through aerosolized air particles, which can easily travel outside the bounds of a sheet of plexiglass. What’s more they say, the positioning of the barriers may allow for viral particles to accumulate–thereby creating an unintended safety hazard.

    “Depending on the air flow conditions in the room, you can get a downdraft into those little spaces that you’re now confined in and cause particles to concentrate in your space,” Richard Corsi, the incoming dean of engineering at the University of California, Davis, told the Times.

    Naturally, this news may be enough to give pause to business owners, who’ve widely adopted the safety protocols. The question is, should you do away with those barriers?

    It may be too early to say. While some studies including one from Johns Hopkins published in June, concluded that screens in classrooms led to a heightened risk of coronavirus infection, more research is needed. 

    What is abundantly clear, however, is that air quality and filtration is vital. Dr. Joseph Allen, director of the Healthy Buildings program and an associate professor at Harvard’s T.H. Chan School of Public Health recommends contacting your building manager to ensure it is updating the heating, ventilation, and air conditioning systems regularly. You can also hire an engineer or use real-time sensors to check ventilation rates and carbon dioxide concentrations. Finally, consider upgrading to higher-quality air filters, such as MERV 13 filters, which only cost a few dollars each. 

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