The Urgent Need for Indoor Air Quality Regulation | The Regulatory Review
A year ago, I noted that in the early stages of the COVID-19 pandemic, many governments had struggled to effectively assess and communicate risks, and regulatory systems had difficulties with unexpected risks and handling uncertainty. SARS-Cov-2 contagion was not fully understood––even though strong findings in support of aerosol transmission already existed as well as research that showed that surface transmission was very unlikely.
Since the initial research findings from summer 2020, the scientific picture has grown ever clearer and stronger about the essential importance of aerosol transmission, but regulation has largely remained based on outdated science and ends up being dangerously inadequate or even counterproductive.
The problem of inadequate rules and guidance started with the wearing of masks, which governments were slow to encourage or mandate—possibly deliberately downplaying it to avoid panic buying or to limit costs. But inadequacy extends to “safe” distances, hand disinfection, “sanitizing” of objects and premises, installation of plexiglass panels, requirements on ventilation, regulation on the use of outdoor space. Some jurisdictions get some of these measures right, but many do not, or only partially. As a result, resources are spent on useless, sometimes harmful, and at best marginally helpful “mitigation” measures.
People are placing confidence in “protection” that does not protect. This false protection allows the virus to spread further, claiming lives and harming societies. Eventually, that false protection will further damage trust in government and institutions as it becomes clear that unfounded measures were imposed.
Governments should address vital short-term remedies first. Some of the feasible regulatory remedies include strengthening mask mandates indoors, improving information on face masks, facilitating the use of public space for open air food service, and mandating short-term measures to improve ventilation. In addition, some practices should be phased out, including the use of plexiglass shields—which do not protect from aerosol transmission. Widespread sanitation of surfaces should be de-emphasized as the practice is useless, costly, impractical, and environmentally harmful. Governments should also develop and implement long-term remedies.