Health officials have zeroed in on air quality in air-conditioned buildings as the highly contagious Delta variant of COVID-19 presents fresh challenges for combating the pandemic.
Head of the COVID-19 Monitoring Unit and Acting Chief Environmental Officer, Ronald Chapman, revealed the authorities’ fresh concerns as he spoke on today’s edition of Getting Down to Brass Tacks.
Split air conditioning systems present greater challenges than central air in controlling the spread of the virus, he said.
Chapman explained: “Central air conditioning units bring in external air which refreshes the building, so you get air exchanges, whereas split systems just take in air and constantly recirculate it, so no new air comes in.
“Now this is important with the Delta variant, because we had a case recently where there were a lot of people in one air-conditioned room with little or no air exchange, and even though they were wearing masks, some of them still got the virus.
“The World Health Organisation and the Pan American Health Organisation recommend a minimum of six air exchanges per hour in buildings with air conditioning, which is easy with a central system but with split systems it is not that simple.”
When asked how the watchdog unit will go about monitoring air quality, Chapman said he had to draw on the resources from his post as Chief Environmental Officer.
He said: “I got the Environmental Health Officers to do the evaluations because given the short space of time, we could not train people to the level that was necessary to carry them out. It is a significant demand especially when you are dealing with large crowds.
“For example, when it came to churches, we wanted to allow them to meet without restricting all of them to 25 people regardless of their size.
“We are trying to evaluate them on a case by case basis, so we look at the cubic footage of the buildings, their air flows, measure their carbon dioxide levels so that we can make an informed decision on how many people can be in those rooms. Now that was not an issue with the initial Alpha variant.”
The Delta variant has made life much more challenging for the unit and others involved in the battle against the pandemic, as it was moving faster than they thought, he said.
Chapman said: “You can have resources in terms of buildings, and vehicles, but the main challenge with Barbados is personnel; we have the same group of people doing a lot of the critical things because the competency pool is not as diverse as that in more developed countries, so it means people now have to span wide expanses of responsibilities.
“We only have so many doctors and nurses, and what Delta has shown us is that it can overwhelm a system very easily. Even if we got another 100 doctors, if we do not change our behaviours and practices and get more serious, even those extra doctors will be overworked.”
The COVID-19 monitoring chief also expressed concern that Barbadians were getting somewhat slack in following the COVID-19 protocols.
“The biggest issue with COVID now is that Barbadians are not following the protocols,” Chapman said. “People often send me pictures of parties going on, with people mingling and mixing without masks on. It would seem to me that there are still some out there that think it is a hoax, that it cannot happen to them or they just do not care about their family members.
“The same protocols apply for both Alpha and Delta [variants], and one of the problems now is that people are feeling more comfortable with each other and are therefore dropping their guard.” (DH)