I hope to have about a dozen posts here, each with this same introductory statement of a few paragraphs before I get to an idea presentation. My position is that each side of the reopening issue has valid points. On the one hand, the more in which close, interpersonal contact takes place in a reopening (even with masks, which are flawed), the greater is the prospect of a resurgence of Covid-19 and an increase in deaths. And such a resurgence would lead to another drive for shutdowns. On the other hand, the country will simply fall apart if we do not begin to reopen or, if upon reopening, we were to again be forced to comply with a drive for new shutdowns as a result of a resurgence. Many lives have already been ruined and there is only so much that the economy can take.
Of course, we would not be facing such a dilemma if we had a vaccine or a cure. In such a situation, a reopening would be rapid and there would be no turning back. But we don’t have a cure or vaccine, leaving us back with our uncomfortable choices.
Despite the flaws that can be seen in both paths, I believe a new path should be aggressively pursued, one which would actually take into account the concerns of both sides. This path would have two prongs: (1) greatly reduce the prospect of the contact transmission and airborne transmission of Covid-19 by exploring some existing technologies from a new angle; and (2) exploring ways in which people could be made less susceptible in having a severe outcome if they got infected. In other words, I believe there are far more effective ways in which to protect people from Covid-19 (and future pandemic organisms) than the standard ones of hand washing, standing six feet apart, setting up acrylic barriers and wearing masks (tactics which should be maintained). In fact, I believe there are ways in which substantial protection can be provided concurrent with the closer contact between people which will inevitably come with a reopening, even in restaurants and on airplanes.
I will admit that some of my ideas would cost a tidy sum to implement. There is no way around it. However, in a world where trillions of dollars have already been allocated, I think these concepts, in totality, would be among the few that would directly apply to Covid-19 and would have the greatest impact on it.
Please not that in the following idea I have simply made an observation and expanded upon it. I hope you will find that I have presented a concept which is rational and logical. Of course, there may be flaws of which I am not aware, but we should work on overcoming them and not throw out the baby with the bathwater.
The idea follows.
As things currently stand with Covid-19, surgical masks and N95 respirators are discussed the most with respect to reducing the airborne spread of Covid-19. Despite their predominance in both discussions and actual use, it has to be remembered that surgical masks are intended to protect the environment and that it is the N95 respirators which are more protective of the wearer. The latter option has a disadvantage in that it is difficult for most people to wear for long periods of time. This presentation is made with the understanding that both options (or homemade alternatives) will dominate in public settings.
It seems that the risk of exposure to airborne Covid-19 would, generally speaking, be higher pretty much anywhere within indoor settings or in very close proximity to someone in an outdoor setting. Outdoor settings tend to be safer due to the effect of the sun and any humidity on the virus, as well as breezes which can rapidly disperse it. When we further break down the mechanisms, in relation to transmission risk, by which Covid-19 can be transmitted, we realize that it can, at the low level be caused by normal exhalations. It will be increased with speaking, further increased to a significant degree by coughing and then reach the paramount level of risk with sneezing. Logic dictates that if the risk of any transmission from these causes can be reduced, we will have a lower rate of airborne transmission and thus a lower infection rate.
If we assume that most (or all) people in various settings will be wearing the above-mentioned options, it would be unreasonable to expect them to not exhale normally or speak at normal levels. And it would be difficult to get them to wear even more protective facial coverings due to the fact that most of such alternatives will significantly impair verbal communication. One would not think that such low-risk activities (while wearing the above-mentioned options) would merit much concern. Some may assume that they can even cough or sneeze without risk to others while wearing these aids. However, it is with these two higher-risk activities where we will have a significant problem, not only (and quite obviously) without surgical masks or N95 respirators, but with them. I will be proposing a solution to this danger which will not require a constant facial covering beyond what I have mentioned.
First, a brief overview of the risks inherent in coughing and sneezing.
This video, from Aalto university, shows how far particles from a cough can spread: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=WZSKoNGTR6Q This is informative: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=MKAHNoni0KI As is this: https://www.fau.edu/newsdesk/articles/mechanical-cough-coronavirus.php
The study which is most concerning is this one https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC3846148/#!po=45.3704 . It essentially makes the point that current cough etiquette measures, including mask use, are not as effective as once thought. It read, in part: “Acquired data suggests that in the case of an individual infected with a highly pathogenic microorganism, infectious cough droplets would still be released to the surrounding environment when covering the mouth/nose with any of the assessed respiratory maneuvers, allowing the probability of infecting susceptible individuals.”
It appears that the main problem with masks is that the force of air which is expelled, particularly during a sneeze, escapes from the sides. One might surmise that the way to resolve this is for the masks to adhere much closer to the face along its edges. This would require an excessive degree of tightness, something which most people cannot endure for long.
It should be easy to understand why the force of a sneeze propels droplets to the outside air via the edges of a mask. Just look at the average mask; it is held relatively close to the face. This means that if a large exhalation (as in a sneeze) comes forth, it does not go into a large enough receptacle to contain it. Now, if a mask had a receiving volume of, say, the size of an airplane emesis bag (the bag for vomiting), it would likely retain all of the force of a sneeze with minimal or no leakage from the sides. And, if concurrent with a sneeze the borders of the mask could somehow be completely pressed against the face, any leakage would be reduced to negligible amounts. But no such arrangement exists with masks. Wearing a mask with the volume as just described would be quite cumbersome and we still would not have a way to stop leakage from the sides, due to the inability of people to endure the tightness which would be required.
It should be noted that there have been various inventions over the years for devices to “catch” coughs or sneezes, such as these: https://patents.google.com/patent/US20110088132A1/en ; https://www.improbable.com/2015/03/23/sneeze-catcher-new-patent/ ; https://www.neatorama.com/2017/05/23/Engineering-Against-Coughing-and-Sneezing/ .
The answer is this: a portable “sneeze catcher” which people could wear on a lanyard or belt for quick access. Although it would have similarities to previously invented sneeze catchers, it would be notable for combining the following qualities. First, its rubber-type seal against the face would conform roughly to the wearer’s face contour, when pressed against it by the wearer. This should enable a brief, tight seal during a sneeze and would thus greatly limit any airflow exiting through the sides. Considerations would need to be made for if a person is wearing a N95 respirator at the time of an impending sneeze. Second, the sneeze catcher would have three handles: one extending downward (like a lollipop) and two on the sides. This would enable a one or two handed person to exert enough pressure to maintain a good seal. Third, each handle could be squeezed to open a panel of some type which would normally cover the receiving area of a sneeze. Perhaps the panel could slide down, or there could be an iris type of “panel.” This would “engage” the sneeze catcher for use. When a sneeze is completed, the panel should be quickly closed to retain what was expelled in the confined area. Fourth, we need to consider the volume of the sneeze “receiving area” and how it would be designed. As discussed previously, the receiving area should be reasonably large, but not be cumbersome to the wearer while not in use. It therefore needs to be restrained or contracted while not in use. It can’t be hanging and flapping about. If you were to visualize it, the area would act like a balloon when receiving a sneeze; it would expand. However, unlike a balloon, the force of a sneeze probably would not be enough to overcome the “tightness” of the area while it is at rest and subsequently initiate expansion. Therefore, the best option for getting the balloon effect would be for the receiving area to expand at the same time as the above mentioned panel slides open, through mechanical means. The receiving area should use a framework of sorts which would expand in the manner like a Hoberman sphere, accordion or iris. This arrangement would require “fabric” being connected to the framework. Fifth, the interior and exterior of the sneeze catcher would need to be coated with a virucidal material, of which there are many on the market. And sixth, if possible, the material which encases the receiving area should allow air, and only air, to flow through it (no viruses). This will enable the gradual contraction of the receiving chamber when it is no longer needed. It would also help enable some degree of breathing if the receiving chamber needs to be used as an “emergency N-95”; see below for elaboration.
In the proposed use, when a person feels they are about to sneeze or cough, they would: raise this to their nose and mouth; press firmly against the face for a good seal; squeeze the handle to open the receiving chamber entrance and expand the dimensions of the overall receiving area; sneeze; then reverse the process. All contents of the sneeze would be retained and the virus would be killed when it touches the inner walls. As a supplement, there might be a way, after a sneezing bout, to spray through a port into the chamber to further disinfect it.
In order to significantly impact Covid-19, it would be preferred that in order for a person to gain access to stores, schools, offices, buses, etc. they would need to be in possession of one of these devices. This would require government involvement from the top. Once these are prevalent, you can have assurance that the public will effectively shame anyone who does not have any obvious infirmities if they sneeze without using it.
A supplemental benefit to this device is that a person could engage the receiving chamber and breathe through the device, like a super-strong N95 respirator. This could come in handy when a person has to walk through an area where they saw someone sneeze in an improper manner, or if they are in close confinement with others, like in an elevator. Breathing, to a limited degree would be possible if the receiving chamber walls allowed the transit of air through them, but not viruses.