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Indoor air quality can impact risk of viral transmission


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SALT LAKE CITY — The Aranet4 measures carbon-dioxide, and when that number gets over 800, we're basically sharing each others' air.

Aerosol-scientists use this data to determine the risk for viral transmission.

When taken on public transportation trains in downtown Salt Lake City, the numbers on the Aranet4 stayed relatively low, and raised as people got on board.

At a grocery store, the numbers were consistently over 1,000.

Doctor Jose-Luis Jimenez, a professor of chemistry and environmental sciences at the University of Colorado, is considered one of the top experts in this subject. He said this information is important because many viruses spread primarily through air.

"The idea is that it's a way to know how much exhaled air is in a place. We get infected from breathing exhaled air from others," he said.

Washing your hands is important, he said that is more effective at fighting off potential infections and diseases that go from the fecal or oral route, like salmonella.

"There is zero proven cases of surface-transmission of COVID," he said. "Viruses are present in our saliva and our respiratory fluid, it comes out in these aerosols afloat ... when you breathe it in, it's right there on the cells it needs to infect your respiratory system."

The Aranet4 measures carbon-dioxide, and when that number gets over 800, we're basically sharing each-others' air.
The Aranet4 measures carbon-dioxide, and when that number gets over 800, we're basically sharing each-others' air. (Photo: Mike Anderson, KSL-TV)

A device like the Aranet4 exposes things in the are that not visible to the human eye. Dr. Jimenez compares it to a smoker exhaling smoke — you can see and smell it, but as for viruses, they are invisible.

"One that's important is vocalization," he said. "We know that places where people are talking loudly or yelling or singing ... that's where we see tons of superspreading events; in churches, in choirs, especially if you're not wearing masks."

Indoor ventilation is often designed to eliminate odors, but it's not enough to stop the spread of viruses, he said.

You can protect yourself with a N95 mask, or avoid higher-risk areas. At home or work, you could use air-cleaners and purifiers that can help capture some of those viruses.

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Mike Anderson
Mike Anderson often doubles as his own photographer, shooting and editing most of his stories. He came to KSL in April 2011 after working for several years at various broadcast news outlets.

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