We all know the CDC guidelines to avoid the spread of COVID 19 in public, but what about within our homes? There are several things we can do, in addition to cleaning high touch surfaces, to help prevent the spread of COVID 19, or any infectious disease, among family members who live together.
Because COVID-19 is thought to spread mainly through respiratory droplets from someone who is infected, staying home curbs the spread, but also makes it extra important that our homes are a healthy place to spend so much time. In addition, we are still learning how this virus spreads, including the potential for it to be “aerosolized” where it may linger and circulate in the air inside homes and buildings.
Maintaining good indoor air quality, or IAQ, in our homes is always important to prevent health hazards and to optimize the body’s immune system, along with other healthy living practices like good nutrition, sleep and exercise. Following are extra measures you can take in your home to help protect your family from transmitting COVID 19 (and other airborne infectious diseases) to each other (in addition to hand washing and cleaning guidelines).
Home risk reduction strategies when no one is ill:
- Increase ventilation of fresh air into your home to dilute airborne germs and pollutants.
- Upgrade to a MERV 13 rated air filter in your heating/cooling (HVAC) system. That is the efficiency level that can capture virus carrying sneeze droplets. Higher ratings are more efficient but may overly restrict the air flow and cause problems, so consult an HVAC professional if you want to upgrade further.
- Prevent very low relative humidity (below 30% RH) since that can make people more susceptible to respiratory infection. This is rarely an issue in our warm humid climate, but can happen during cold winter weather when the heating system is running a lot.
- As an added precaution, close the toilet lid before flushing to reduce exposure to any germs released into the air by the turbulence, and run the bathroom exhaust fan during and for a few minutes after flushing.
When someone in the household is sick or quarantined:
- Isolate the affected person to one room.
- Exhaust air from that room to the outdoors to keep the isolation room’s air from circulating to other rooms. That can be done with a small window fan on low-speed blowing to the outside.
- Avoid sharing a bathroom. If that’s not possible, run an exhaust fan continuously. Also follow CDC cleaning and disinfecting guidelines after each use by the affected person. Note that disinfectants are more effective if you clean first as a separate step. (Learn more at www.cdc.gov/coronavirus )
- Close off or cover the central air vents in the isolation room if there is another way to control temperature. Provide a window air conditioner or a room space heater for that room, as needed for comfort. In mild weather, open windows.
- Use a room air cleaner in the isolation room. Read the EPA Guide to Air Cleaners in the Home, a free online pdf before you buy one.
- Continue the strategies for when no one is sick in the rest of the house occupied by healthy household members.
When no one is ill, but the household includes a person at high risk (see current CDC categories or consult with a health care professional):
- Isolate the high-risk person to a separate room and bathroom, if possible. Keep the door closed. This is to protect the at-risk person in case another household member has the virus without symptoms.
- Use a window fan to ventilate the room with outdoor air (blowing from outside to inside).
- Close or cover the central air vents and provide a room air conditioner or space heater as needed for comfort.
- Use a room air cleaner in the isolation room.
Healthy IAQ tips for all homes:
- Pollutant source control is top of the list. Never allow smoking indoors, don’t burn candles, always use the range good when cooking. Buy and use only low VOC cleaners and household products (read labels). Avoid overuse of disinfectants, such as bleach, which produce unhealthy fumes. Do not rely on air filters or air cleaners as a substitute for pollutant source control.
- Try to maintain 40-60% relative humidity (RH) indoors for optimal health and comfort.
- Make sure there is some water in all drain traps to prevent sewer gas in the home.
- Clean and capture dust with a HEPA filter vacuum cleaner or damp wipe methods.
- Clean high touch surfaces often, especially door handles, light switches and counters.
- If your home was built before 1978, assume it could have lead-based paint and asbestos containing materials. Home repair and renovation projects that disturb paint or asbestos materials can create a serious hazard. Hire only EPA Lead-safe Renovators to do work on your home. Learn more at www.epa.gov
- When choosing new door, cabinet and faucet handles, consider brass ones. Uncoated copper and its alloys, as well as silver, can have anti-microbial effects. Although more research is needed, a recent study by the National Institutes of Health and CDC reported that the SARS-CoV-2 virus, which causes COVID-19, remained viable for up to 2 to 3 days on plastic and stainless steel surfaces vs. up to 4 hours on copper.
The above extra measures to reduce risk of COVID 19 are based largely upon recommendations of Lawrence Berkley National Laboratory indoor air quality scientists.