PoP BC Briefing #1 from PoP BC

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POP BC Briefing #1: COVID is Airborne

Inspired by colleagues in Alberta, we are pleased to announce the launch of Protect Our Province BC (POP-BC).  POP-BC builds on work begun by Protect Our Province Alberta (POP-AB) with the aim to fill a gap left by the governments and Public Health officials: providing timely, trustworthy information on the pandemic.

Led by a group of health experts, business leaders, and education advocates, POP-BC provides critical, unfiltered information to BC residents about the COVID-19 pandemic. POP-BC uses the same format as POP-AB, with live, one-hour, web-based presentations. These presentations have a topical focus, short presentations from experts and advocates, and include generous time for questions from the media and from the public.

Co-founder Dr. Karina Zeidler says, “This new initiative allows experts and science-based advocates to speak directly with people in BC, and to acquaint the audience with COVID-19 science.”  Co-founder Jennifer Heighton, education advocate, adds, “Understanding how COVID-19 and its variants operate allows people to make informed decisions on how best to keep themselves, and their families, safe and healthy during this historical pandemic.”

Streamed on 20 October, 2021, our first, one-hour, POP-BC event focused on the latest scientific information regarding how COVID-19 spreads, and the implications of aerosol spread for health care and community settings, including hospitals, workplaces, and schools.

Our experts made the case that understanding the mechanism of transmission – aerosols – must drive our individual and collective responses to the pandemic.  

Recommendations included:

  • Recognize that the transmissibility of the delta variant requires aerosol best practices to drive down COVID-19 spread and prevent illness, in conjunction with vaccination programs;
  • Maintain indoor masking, and encourage the provision of high quality masks in congregate settings;
  • Establish provincial standards for those who operate indoor spaces, ensuring effective ventilation and filtration of indoor air, with education and supports as required.

The first POP-BC briefing included the following speakers:

  • Dr. Karina Zeidler, Family Physician and Steering Committee Member, POP-BC
  • Dr. Victor Leung, Infectious Diseases Physician and Medical Microbiologist
  • Michelle Naef, P.Eng, PhD candidate at the University of Alberta, in the David and Joan Lynch School of Engineering Safety and Risk Management
  • Moderated by Dr. Amy Tan, Family Physician and Palliative Care Physician
Get the slide deck

Summary of Key Points

  • SARS-CoV-2 virus that causes COVID, travels in the air, like smoke.  It is spread mostly by aerosols, not by contact and droplets.
  • Good ventilation and filtration is an important tool to stop the spread. We need clean indoor air to end the pandemic.
  • Good fitting, high quality masks reduce transmission of airborne particles. 

In the past, for illnesses like cholera, malaria, and tuberculosis, we misunderstood  how these diseases were spread. Once our understanding improved, we were able to reduce transmission. The same occurred with the COVID virus, which was originally thought to be spread by contact and droplets.

Science has now shown that COVID is an airborne virus. BC needs to update its pandemic response based on the most recent and accurate science showing that the virus spreads through the air we breathe. 

We know that up to 50 % of COVID is spread from someone who was not having any symptoms. The particles from an infectious person are spread by breathing, talking, singing, coughing. There are more particles in the air closer to them, but some particles can float around a room and stay suspended in the air long after the infected person leaves the room. 

Ventilation is one of the most important things that can reduce the infectious particles in the air. Having air systems that exchange (rather than recirculate) the air frequently (6 times an hour) or if nothing else is possible, opening windows and doors is a way to ventilate a room.

Air filtration reduces exposure to the virus.  This can be accomplished by adding filters to ventilation system and where ventilation is poor, using stand alone air cleaner/filtration machines can help.

Avoiding crowded spaces can help reduce transmission.  Plexiglass and face shields do not reduce spread, and may even worsen ventilation by limiting air flow. Hospitals, schools and businesses often ignore heating, cooling and ventilation systems as important tools to reduce airborne contaminants and the amount of time people are exposed to them. 

High filtration, well fitting masks are important to reduce transmission. N95 masks remove 95% of particles and are better than cloth or surgical/medical masks. It is important that masks fit well. Surgical or medical mask fit can be improved by sealing the gaps at the sides and top.   

In order to protect people in BC against COVID-19, an airborne virus, we need to enact measures such as the following:

  • effective ventilation and air filtration, 
  • use of well-fitting, high-quality masks,  
  • easy-to-access, fast and sensitive testing and tracing,
  • exposure notifications which account for aerosol transmission. 

Aerosols are the main way that COVID-19 infects, and public health protocols need to reflect this scientific consensus.

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