Show an ad over header. AMP

Buildings are getting tested for coronavirus, too

Testing buildings — not just people — could be an important way to stop the spread of the coronavirus.

Why it matters: People won't feel safe returning to schools, offices, bars and restaurants unless they can be assured they won't be infected by coronavirus particles lingering in the air — or being pumped through the buildings' air ducts. One day, even office furniture lined with plants could be used to clean air in cubicles.


The big picture: Prodded by more than 200 scientists, the World Health Organization now acknowledges there is emerging evidence of airborne transmission in crowded or poorly ventilated settings.

  • In Florida, Texas and other Sun Belt states, a dramatic rise in COVID-19 cases has been linked to air-conditioned bars, house parties and other large gatherings.
  • The virus thrives indoors in both heated and cooled environments if the humidity is below 40%, scientists say.

Driving the news: New research from the University of Oregon, in partnership with the University of California-Davis, suggests heating, ventilation and air conditioning systems could be contributing to the spread of the disease in health care facilities.

  • There are some fairly easy fixes, like installing more sophisticated air filters, drawing more fresh air into buildings and cranking up the humidity, which tends to kill the virus.
  • But when it's extremely hot or cold outside, some of these measures could overwhelm HVAC systems, ventilation experts say.

Environmental testing could provide early warnings of an outbreak, says Kevin Van Den Wymelenberg, director of the Institute for Health in the Built Environment at the University of Oregon.

A biotech startup called Enviral Tech teamed up with his lab to conduct weekly tests of 52 long-term care facilities in a half-dozen states in the Pacific Northwest. At least four showed signs of the virus.

  • Springs Living, an assisted living center in Portland, detected the virus in an air duct three weeks into the pilot, after showing no signs in the previous tests.
  • The management quickly tested all residents and staff, and found a handful of positive cases, though none of the individuals showed symptoms until five days later.
  • They were quarantined while the building and HVAC system were thoroughly cleaned. No other cases developed and everyone survived.
  • "We had a five-day head start" on the outbreak, said Springs Living CEO Fee Stubblefield, whose company is running similar tests at all 18 of its facilities.

How it works: Using Enviral Tech's test kits, building managers can collect up to four samples from various surfaces in a building, including duct work.

  • The swabs are placed in a designated tube, and mailed overnight to its Eugene, Ore., lab for analysis, with results in 24 hours or less.
  • The kits cost $300 each, or about $225 by weekly subscription, says Enviral Tech CEO Shula Jaron.
  • "Testing your building is really the key to restarting the engine of the economy," says Van Den Wymelenberg.

What to watch: His lab is designing micro-environments that could provide office workers with their own supply of fresh air.

  • HyPhy is a twist on the traditional office cubicle: it's a personal clean air pod that integrates a fern called Azolla into the furniture to provide personalized air circulation and purification.
  • The plants, when treated with ultraviolet lights under the desk, may help kill pathogens while pumping localized fresh air into the breathing zone of the cubicle's occupant.

Israel and Sudan begin normalization process after call with Trump

Sudan and Israel announced today that they will “end the state of belligerence” between them and start the process of normalizing ties.

Driving the news: The announcement came after a phone call hosted by President Trump with Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu, Sudanese Prime Minister Abdalla Hamdok, and the head of Sudan's governing council, Gen. Abdel Fattah al-Burhan.

Keep reading... Show less

We're all guinea pigs for Tesla's latest self-driving tech

Tesla is beta-testing its latest self-driving technology with a small group of early adopters, a move that alarms experts and makes every road user — including other motorists, pedestrians and cyclists — unwitting subjects in its ongoing safety experiment.

Why it matters: Tesla hailed the limited rollout of its "full self-driving" beta software as a key milestone, but the warnings on the car's touchscreen underscore the risk in using its own customers — rather than trained safety drivers — to validate the technology.

Keep reading... Show less

Trump removes Sudan from state sponsors of terrorism list

President Trump signed Friday an order to remove Sudan from the State Department’s state sponsors of terrorism list, senior U.S. officials tell me.

Why it matters: Trump’s signature paves the way for the U.S. and Sudan to move forward on a larger deal — which will also include a Sudanese announcement on normalizing its relations with Israel.

Keep reading... Show less

Big Ten football is back

The Big Ten football season kicks off tonight after months of a "will they, won't they" narrative.

The state of play: Each team will play eight regular season games, culminating in a ninth, cross-divisional matchup on Dec. 19 (i.e. the Big Ten Championship, but also No. 2 East vs. No. 2 West, etc.).

Keep reading... Show less

Child care crisis is denting the labor market

Reproduced from Pew Research Center; Chart: Axios Visuals

New data from the Pew Research Center shows that parents are being hit especially hard by the coronavirus pandemic, and as far as job losses go, mothers and fathers are faring equally poorly.

Why it matters: Economists have been warning for months that the pandemic could do long-term damage to the economy as people remain unemployed for longer stretches of time.

Keep reading... Show less

"This guy": Trump-Biden personal venom was on full display during final debate

Joe Biden twice referred to President Trump as "this guy," and Trump called the former vice president's family "like a vacuum cleaner" for foreign money.

Why it matters: The personal venom — during Thursday's final presidential debate, in Nashville — was a reminder that even during a more normal debate, nothing this year is normal.

Keep reading... Show less

Trump's hopes of nuclear deal with Putin come down to the wire

A surprise offer from Vladimir Putin has the U.S. and Russia once again circling a potential pre-election nuclear deal.

The big picture: The last treaty constraining the U.S. and Russia, New START, is due to expire on Feb. 5, 2021, two weeks after the next U.S. presidential inauguration. For the first time since the height of the Cold War, the nuclear guardrails could come off.

Keep reading... Show less

The cliffhanger could be ... Georgia

It hasn't backed a Democrat for president since 1992, but Georgia's changing demographics may prove pivotal this year — not only to Trump v. Biden, but also to whether Democrats take control of the Senate.

Why it matters: If the fate of the Senate did hinge on Georgia, it might be January before we know the outcome. Meanwhile, voters' understanding of this power in the final days of the election could juice turnout enough to impact presidential results.

Keep reading... Show less

Insights

mail-copy

Get Goodhumans in your inbox

Most Read

More Stories