Keeping ahead and having the best information about how COVID-19 spreads is vital. Just prior to May 2020, some reports began to circulate that a possibility exists that COVID-19 may have the capability to remain airborne both in a space lacking circulation and in a location with air handling systems. The bottom line for businesses is that the changing information regarding COVID-19 requires vigilance in keeping abreast of what steps need to be taken to protect workers, patrons, and vendors as well as to meet their own legal duty to maintain a reasonably safe business environment.
April Data Brings May COVID-19 Contamination Concerns
One of the most challenging aspects of combating COVID-19 contamination at a business, or any other location for that matter, is the reality that when it comes to preventing contamination and infection, business owners and others are standing on shifting sands. By that it is meant that COVID-19 is a “novel” coronavirus, this is the first time that this virus has infected humans. From infectious disease specialists to healthcare professionals on the frontline to business owners of all types, we are in something of a “learn as we go” mode. Nowhere is this more apparent than in the arena of COVID-19 contamination and how the virus is spread. As of the end of April 2020, what might prove to be another shift in possible manners of coronavirus contamination occurred.
Thus far, recognized, reputable agencies like the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention and the National Institutes of Health provided firm data that COVID-19 appeared to spread in one of two primary ways:
- A person can become infected with COVID-19 through certain types of person to person contact with an individual carrying the virus, whether or not the individual carrying the coronavirus displayed any symptoms.
- A person can become infected with COVID-19 by coming into contact with a surface or object that had been contaminated with the coronavirus.
A considerable amount of investigation and discussion has focused on whether and how long COVID-19 could remain airborne. As of mid-April 2020, there was at least some consensus that COVID-19 did not remain airborne for long and was incapable of traveling through the air significant distances. As a consequence, the six-feet physical distancing directive became a pandemic mantra.
As of the end of April 2020, two reports began to appear that contradicted the standing suppositions about the airborne transfer capabilities of COVID-19. Before diving deeper into these reports, as of late April 2020, the CDC and NIH had not issued any new advisements pertaining to airborne transfer. It is possible that the reports discussed in a moment may prove to be outliers or that another reason beyond a perceived airborne resilience caused the results at issue. On the other hand, these reports also may prove to be spot-on.
Report #1: Data from a restaurant in China reveals that a patron infected with COVID-19 dined inside the establishment. The eatery had a typical air handling system that kept air circulating throughout the dining room. The patron had no contact with diners at other tables.
The restaurant observed the standard physical distancing directives, with tables and patrons appropriately kept apart more than the minimum amount of recommended space. The serving staff also maintained infection control directives in their overall general activities, including specifically in regard to their interaction with patrons.
Ultimately nine other people eating in the restaurant at the same time, most at different tables, were diagnosed with COVID-19 infections. The infections could all be medically, scientifically traced back to the patron who turned out to be infected.
Researchers in China ultimately concluded that it appeared the COVID-19 virus shed from the infected person and became airborne. These medical investigators further concluded that the virus was able to remain viable in the air and was capable of being swept into the restaurant’s air handling system in a manner that resulted in nine other infections.
The second report, also from China, involved a situation about more confined spaces in which there was a lack of air circulation. These spaces included a hospital medical staff break room and some other locations that arguably would be at a greater risk for COVID-19 contamination as a result of their proximity to a larger number of individuals apt to be infected with the virus.
In this second report, specific data about individuals becoming infected after being exposed to COVID-19 in these spaces wasn’t immediately available. The bottom line of this report was that COVID-19 was found to be lingering in the air. The report indicated that a person might be able to breathe in a sufficient viral load, or enough of the seemingly airborne virus, to become infected.
A few points need to be stressed. First, and as was mentioned, as of the latter part of April 2020, even in light of these somewhat circulating reports, agencies in the U.S.A. like the CDC and NIH had not changed their directives regarding COVID-19 airborne infection. Second, both reports come from China. There has been an issue in some areas regarding reliability to data from that country. With that said, most of that appears to center on issues like the number of people infected and not so much on issues like those presented in this pair of reports.
Finally, there is nothing definitive in either of these reports about the likelihood of airborne transmission of COVID-19 of this nature. The bottom line is a reasonable reading of these reports, coupled with what is and is not known about COVID-19, suggests that this type of transmission may be possible, but we certainly do now know this to be the case with certainty at this juncture.
Legal Duty of Businesses to Protect Against COVID-19 Contamination and Infection
A couple of crucial points need to be made in light of reports like these circulating through reliable resources and the legal duty businesses have to workers, patrons, vendors, and others. In basic terms, a business has a duty to take reasonable steps to keep these individuals reasonably safe on their premises. They do not need to do everything imaginable to keep people perfectly safe.
Because there is some evidence (perhaps what shortly will be regarded as growing evidence), a fair assessment is that a business may have a legal duty to take reasonable steps to ensure that COVID-19 air contamination is prevented. A business certainly has a legal duty to take reasonable steps to control surface COVID-19 contamination in their establishments.
Thoroughly addressing surface and object COVID-19 contamination points to the necessity of engaging a professional coronavirus cleaning and disinfection company to assist in two ways:
- Developing and implementing a contamination prevention plan
- Providing rapid response COVID-19 cleaning and disinfection when contamination is believed to exist.
Professional intervention is also crucial to protect against the possibility of more prolonged airborne contamination by the novel coronavirus. One stark reality is that a professional COVID-19 cleaning company is in the best position to protect against and remediate against airborne COVID-19 of the kind described in these reports.