From Ventilators to Ventilation: The Shifting Focus of the Pandemic

Ventilator availability is a major indicator for states in the South and West that are seeing record hospitalizations, but in New York, where Gov. Cuomo announced that New York City had moved to Phase III of reopening, the topic was ventilation.

July 9, 2020, 9:00 AM PDT

By Irvin Dawid

Hospital Signs

Johnson Photography LLC / Shutterstock

Gov. Andrew Cuomo (D-N.Y.), who made famous the term, "ventilators, ventilators, ventilators" during the pandemic's first weeks in New York City in late March and April, included the issue of airborne transmission of the virus in his 24-minute press briefing (source article with video) on Monday, July 6. But first, he urged President Trump to wear a mask and added a few other critical comments.

Aerosol transmission

Cuomo addressed the issue of airborne transmission of the virus that was raised by hundreds of scientists in an open letter to the World Health Organization. The "outlined the evidence showing that smaller particles can infect people, and are calling for the agency to revise its recommendations," reports Apoorva Mandavilli, science and global health for The New York Times on July 7.

If airborne transmission is a significant factor in the pandemic, especially in crowded spaces with poor ventilation, the consequences for containment will be significant

Ventilation systems in schools, nursing homes, residences and businesses may need to minimize recirculating air and add powerful new filters. Ultraviolet lights may be needed to kill viral particles floating in tiny droplets indoors.

"It’s unclear how often the virus is spread via these tiny droplets, or aerosols, compared with larger droplets that are expelled when a sick person coughs or sneezes, or transmitted through contact with contaminated surfaces, said Linsey Marr, an aerosol expert at Virginia Tech, reported Mandavilli on July 6. Rather than dropping to surfaces, the virus, expelled from simply talking as aerosols, can remain airborne for up to two hours, claim the scientists.

Cuomo wants this problem addressed with new building standards. From the transcript of the press briefing:

On the COVID transmission, following the facts...There's less concern about surface area transmission, more data that it is primarily an airborne transmission. That then raises the question of what can we do with air filtration technology. In here this is an air conditioned building, it's bring air up into the HVAC system, it then runs through the HVAC system and gets recirculated. What kind of filtration can you have on the HVAC system that may be capable of catching the virus as it's attached to the droplets?

We're spending time on it because I think there's a real possibility that we could actually have a positive contribution here. 

Ventilators and hospitalizations: New York, Arizona, Miami-Dade County, Arizona, California

Cuomo also announced, "Total number of hospitalizations, 817. That is the lowest number since March 18."

in Arizona, The Washington Post reports on July 7 that "[m]ore than 3,300 people were hospitalized, an increase of 144 since Monday, with nearly 870 [intensive care unit ICU patients and more than 540 people on ventilators, according to the Arizona Department of Health Services."

Florida does not release the number of current Covid-19 patients in the state, only the percentage of available hospital beds and intensive care unit beds. Miami-Dade County, the most populous and hardest-hit county in the state, "has seen a staggering increase in the number of Covid-19 patients being hospitalized (88%), in the number of ICU beds being used (114%) and in the use of ventilators (119%) over the past 13 days, according to the latest data released by Miami-Dade County Government," reported CNN on July 6.

"Texas surged past 8,000 statewide hospitalizations for the first time over the long holiday weekend -- a more than quadruple increase on the past month," reports NBC-Dallas Fort Worth. "On Tuesday, the number of hospitalizations soared past 9,000."

In California on July 5, "there were 5,790 people hospitalized with confirmed coronavirus infections. That’s an 88% increase from that number on June 5, when there were 3,072 hospitalized," notes a comment below the earlier post on the states surging infections.

Related in Planetizen:

Monday, July 6, 2020 in Office of Governor Andrew M. Cuomo

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