The war against the covid moves to the air

  • In the midst of the fourth wave, the scientific community requests the central and regional governments to rethink prevention measures and place more emphasis on the transmission of the coronavirus by air

  • Experts call for more outdoor activities, clearer guidelines on how to ventilate indoor spaces and campaigns to raise public awareness of the importance of aerosol infections

Fight a virus like SARS-CoV2, who just 15 months ago was a perfect stranger, has forced to correct the prevention strategies throughout the pandemic. Far – or perhaps not so much, because only a year has passed – are the days when no one went out on the street without wearing rubber gloves nor did he let a bottle of milk into the house without wiping it first soaked in bleach. The concern to find out where the contagion could arrive has marked our relationship with the coronavirus.

As the months go by, the scientific evidence They have been giving more and more importance to a route of spread of the virus that a year ago was considered a real taboo by the World Health Organization: airborne transmission. We had to wait until July for the own WHO accept as good the alarm that they launched 239 researchers of world prestige in a scientific article, where they warned of the importance of contagion by aerosol sprays, and it was not until the autumn that the first practical measures to put a brake on it.

Since then, the convenience of monitoring the air we breathe has been permeating public opinion as effective tool to fight the covid. However, at this stage of the pandemic, the scientific community lives with concern – and without hiding a certain frustration – that preventing the spread of the virus by aerosols continues without having the relevance it deserves among the precautions imposed by the authorities and among the daily uses that citizens have adopted.

Ventilation standards

“When we go anywhere, they warn us that they respect the anti-covid measures because they have gel dispensers, capacity control and masks. But no one tells you if the place is well aerated, nor if it has CO2 meters, nor if its ventilation system has the correct filters ”, he complains Margarita del ValImmunologist at the Severo Ochoa Molecular Biology Center (CBM), dependent on the CSIC.

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The researcher does not discharge responsibility on the establishments, which after all comply with the regulations that have been imposed on them, but on whoever dictates those rules: “Today we continue without a clear protocol that indicates the requirements that a closed space must meet to allow meetings ”, he laments.

Del Val is part of the group of scientists first level – made up of more than a hundred virologists, epidemiologists, immunologists and covid experts from other disciplines – that at the end of March sent a paper to the central and regional governments to warn of the need to “stake out”The prevention recommendations that are currently applied.

Specifically, the researchers believe that it would be necessary to “reduce the emphasis and save resources on some measures, such as surface cleaning”. In return, they propose to “grant top priority to the reduction of the risk of contagion by inhalation of the virus ”.


In their writing, the scientists make eight recommendations, most of which have to do with the air. Among them is the promotion of outdoor activities – with an express request that they remain parks and gardens open, now that the good weather has arrived, and the terraces with enclosures that prevent ventilation- or the “urgent and generalized” implantation of CO2 meters to verify the quality of the environment in closed places.

Margarita del Val (CSIC): “Adopting certain routines serves to avoid business closures, illnesses and deaths”

In the current phase of the pandemic, with the fourth wave advancing faster than the vaccination programs and the spring temperatures already installed in our latitudes, scientists propose to transfer the battle against covid. In their didactic effort, the experts are encouraged to give practical instructions on how to carry out a correct ventilation of interior spaces – that allows the circulation “Crossed and distributed” of air, with an entry point and an exit point of the current- and they indicate the minimum air rates in motion that are considered adequate: above 12.5 liters per second per person.

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“Taking these measures into account is not that difficult. In many schools they have incorporated the CO2 meter to school supplies normally and own students know when the environment is too charged and it is convenient to ventilate. It would be about popularizing the use of these tools and adopting these routines because, really, they serve to prevent business closures, illnesses and deaths, “he warns. Del Val.

Awareness campaigns

Launch citizen awareness campaigns to insist on the importance of air quality in the fight against the pandemic is another of the requests made by the researchers in their letter, which has been promoted by the platform of scientists and experts in covid

Since the beginning of the pandemic, the effort to keep the coronavirus at bay has been summarized in a graph made up of three drawings that evoke the famous recommendations: hand washing, mask and social distance. Since then, Jose Luis Jimenez, Professor of Chemistry and Environmental Sciences at the University of Colorado and one of the world champions of the fight against the transmission of covid by aerosols, is sighing for a fourth drawing in that painting that makes ‘tables of the law’ of the pandemic: that of an open window.

José Luis Jiménez (University of Colorado): “People are now more aware of air quality, but not in proportion to its influence on the spread of the virus”

“We have spent one huge amount of money in hydroalcoholic gels and disinfectants, when the spread of the virus through surfaces, if any, is very reduced. Instead, we have left unattended the main route of contagion, which is the aerial in closed or poorly ventilated spaces, “laments Jiménez, who appeals to a football simile to summarize the fight up to now against the covid:” We have dedicated ourselves to defending the goalkeeper of the opposing team, who never attack, while his other players are on the loose on the field scoring goals one after another ”.

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When the pandemic passes, it will touch review prevention strategies that have been applied to avoid mistakes in the future. It may then be known why the thesis that the coronavirus spreads through the air has had to row against the current. “When the pandemic hit, the dominant thought in WHO, by pure tradition, it was that viral diseases are only transmitted by drops and contact, except for very rare viruses, and that idea was adopted as a dogma without checking the scientific evidence “, he explains Jose Luis Jimenez. That initial distrust of aerosols has persisted to this day. “People are now more pending of air quality, but not in proportion to its influence on the spread of the virus “, warns the scientist.

In the opinion of Antonio Alcamí, CBM virologist Severo Ochoa, after the disdain for airborne covid infections there is also Economic interests. “Probably, being more strict with ventilation would have meant that many restaurants, which is where we remove our mask, they could not have opened. It has been preferred to look the other way and not monitor the air in those places. The price is the waves of infections that we have lived and continue to live ”, analyzes the researcher, also a signatory, together with Jiménez and Del Val, of the document.

Two weeks after sending this letter, the scientists they keep waiting response from the authorities.

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