A few months before most of us knew the word “coronavirus,” I interviewed a leading cellular biologist at Harvard Medical School, Dr. Stephanie Taylor, on how people can protect themselves from flu. Her answer was surprising: wet your indoor spaces properly, starting with your own house. This can reduce your risk of infection by as much as 60%. Now it has an update: the same advice applies to the virus that causes Covid-19.
Flu outbreaks occur every winter, just as the pandemic is picking up now. But Dr. says Taylor not because of cold, outdoor winter temperatures, but how we operate during the winter. We seal ourselves indoors with the heat on, which dramatically dries the air. According to fairly recent research on the behavior of pathogens in the air, droplets carrying infectious virus or bacteria shrink rapidly in low humidity and become dormant; however, the virus or bacteria can remain highly contagious. When the small aerosol in the air is breathed into a humid airway, the floating demons are rehydrated and cause colds, the flu, and Covid-19.
But don’t blow your moisturizer without monitoring the results. Excessive levels of relative humidity are also unsafe, he said. In that situation, warm and too humid air can come across a cold surface, which leads to condensation. That provides the fluid needed for mold to grow.
Our bodies also respond to low humidity levels in ways that can make us much more susceptible to infection. The combination – air that promotes viral spread and susceptible bodies – means that indoor spaces can actually accelerate the spread of the disease.
The trick is to get indoor humidity at a level that is perfectly fine, not too dry and not too humid. According to Dr. Taylor, keep relative humidity levels maintained at 40-60% – as close to 50% as possible. This is fairly simple to achieve. Use a hygrometer, a sensor available online for about $ 5- $ 10, to know when to adjust your humidifier. There we are. This works in every home, office, business, hospital, train, airplane, gym, daycare, school, church, synagogue, mosque, and everywhere people live.
The studies that support Dr.’s advice. Taylor well designed and compelling. So why don’t we know about them? Dr. Believes Taylor said there is a leadership vacuum in the cracks between two very different professions, building design and public health. Architects do not monitor the interior of buildings for effects on human health. Public health authorities do not include buildings management in their job descriptions. But if the abundant literature is right, this oversight has the potential to make things worse. Staying at home orders may be firing if we stay in poor damp homes.
As it happens, Dr. Taylor is one of those rare professionals who is a building design expert and a public health expert. (She is also a champion aerodrome champion and dog owner, but you can read about that in my column from last year). Her crossing is still lonesome, but she made significant progress this year. Dr. Taylor leads an ongoing international petition campaign asking the World Health Organization (WHO) to research and publish guidelines on indoor air humidity. It has been signed by over 4,800 lights, organizations like the British Standards Institute in the UK and the Yale Immunobiology Lab, as well as top experts like John Macomber and Joe Allen from Harvard School of Public Health.
In November, WHO finally responded. At a press conference in November, Dr. Maria Van Kerkhove, WHO technical lead for Covid-19, praised the merits of the petition and the research, and suggested keeping relative humidity levels between 50 and 60%. A sentence on this slipped to her recommendations through an aligned international website. In the meantime, SDC is burying the mention of relative humidity indoors, though it acknowledges the evidence for it on an occupational health tips sheet. But neither WHO nor CDC have issued more detailed guidance documents, much less use warp speed for this strategy. That is confusing. Unlike most of the mitigation strategies we all suffered in 2020, this one seems fairly painless, even over a very long term. After Covid’s nightmare is history, most of us will say goodbye to social distance, but gladly continue to humidify our house. Even our grandmothers knew that hydrated indoor air closes colds and flu.
One elected official decided not to wait for a memorandum from world authorities. In the border city of Roma, Texas, Mayor Jaime Escobar, Jr. worked with local doctors Dr. Jeff Gusky and Dr. Raymond Mussett, to launch a campaign called “Imaging Hope.” The city publicizes humidity levels, educates residents about indoor humidity, and moisturizes public buildings including schools. The campaign has since spread to the county; Starr County Judge Eloy Vera issued an emergency order this week urging all government buildings there to humidify.
We hope to see a smaller surge for our friends in Roma. Better yet, we hope to see an end to the surge everywhere. For that we must listen to some of the benefits of a crusading ivy league, a bold Texas city, and the wisdom of our grandmothers. And on Christmas Eve, we should listen to the wisdom in our hearts as we long for good health and peace on Earth.