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Tuesday, August 3, 2021

Scientists develop a device that measures the risk of coronavirus in public spaces

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Researchers from the Netherlands Heart Centers and the University of Amsterdam used an easy-to-use, portable particle counter to track aerosol concentrations in different outdoor environments

While the development of vaccines against COVID-19 continues in the world and different countries begin to vaccinate, the preventions at the time of avoiding contagions do not stop, and researchers continuously seek solutions to stop the current pandemic unleashed by the new SARS coronavirus- CoV-2, which has already infected 82 million people and have killed more than 1.8 million people on Earth.

On that frontline, researchers from the Netherlands Heart Centers and the University of Amsterdam used an easy-to-use, portable particle counter to track aerosol concentrations in different outdoor environments to help determine the impacts of risk reduction measures, such as ventilation improvements.

“Direct measurement of aerosol concentrations has proven to be technically difficult, which is why we propose the use of portable particle counters, a new and easy-to-apply method to measure aerosol concentrations. This allows us to take measurements in typical public spaces, each of which differs in volume, number of people, and ventilation rate. These data are used to estimate the relationship between the persistence time of the aerosol and the risk of infection by SARS-CoV-2,” explained the scientists in the journal ‘Physics of Fluids’.

Because of their role in the transmission of the coronavirus, understanding aerosol concentrations and persistence in public spaces can help determine infection risks. However, measuring these concentrations has so far been difficult and requires specialized personnel and equipment. The key challenge of using portable particle counters is dealing with the background dust that is prevalent in public spaces.

The question then is if you can distinguish these dust particles from aerosols that come from breathing, talking, sneezing and coughing. Inhaled dust and aerosols in human lungs differ in size, so the researchers developed a way to subtract the dust signal in the particle counter by measuring the dust for some time and observing how the signal changes after they are added. sprays to mix. 

“There is a lot of fine dust, so we can’t really measure aerosols in that range, but there is a reasonable size range where aerosols can be detected,” explains Daniel Bonn, one of the authors.

The World Health Organisation, in its recent scientific report, has highlighted the possible role of aerosols in the transmission of severe acute respiratory syndrome coronavirus 2 (SARS-CoV-2) and stated that “much more research is needed given the possible implications of this transmission route.” 

This is particularly relevant for public spaces where the risk of aerosol transmission of SARS-CoV-2 is higher. However, direct measurement of aerosol concentrations has proven to be technically difficult, hampering such research.

The researchers compared the aerosol concentration determined by this method with laboratory techniques and found the perfect results as desired. Although this work reports on a specific portable particle counter, the Fluke 985, which is used to monitor dust and air quality in cleanrooms, Bonn notes that the results are not unique to this device and may be extended to other cleanroom and particles too.

Although the method does not directly measure the presence of viral particles, the detected aerosol concentration can be combined with virus data from other studies to obtain a practical risk assessment for a specific type of public space. The findings suggest that well-ventilated areas can have aerosol concentrations more than 100 times lower than poorly ventilated areas, such as elevators or public bathrooms.

“There are people worried about going to the gym, coming to the office, taking the train. All that can at least be evaluated,” says Bonn, adding “the motto is still ventilation, ventilation, ventilation.” 

And they conclude that while ventilation plays an important role in indoor spaces, aerosols are not the only route of infection, and social distancing and handwashing remain vital.

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