Mon. Nov 29th, 2021

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Geoff Hanmer, University of Technology Sydney

Governments are pushing for home quarantine for returning travelers, and people are isolating at home because of COVID-19. So now is a good time to think about what you can do to reduce your risk of infection if you live in an apartment.

Earlier in the pandemic, apartments were described as “vertical cruise ships” due to the easy spread of coronavirus among many people sharing cramped spaces. But apartments do not look like cruise ships, because apartments do not have a common ventilation supply and dining areas, among other things. The description of “cruise ship” is inaccurate if it is colorful.

Since then, we’ve learned more about how SARS-CoV-2, the virus that causes COVID-19, spreads through the air we breathe and the importance of good ventilation in a variety of settings.

Here are nine things you can do to minimize your risk of catching the virus if you live in an apartment.

1. Avoid poorly ventilated indoor spaces

Aside from being vaccinated, the first step to minimizing your risk of catching the virus is to avoid poorly ventilated indoor spaces without using a mask (see also section 4).

This reduces the risk of sharing air with neighbors and reduces risks associated with common facilities, such as elevators, gyms, and waste areas.




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2. See laundries and indoor waste areas

But you still need to wash your clothes and dispose of your trash. Communal laundries, gyms and indoor waste areas are an obvious risk, especially if they are poorly ventilated.

Then perhaps arrange a rota to give people access at certain times and ensure that at least an hour passes between uses to enable enough air exchange.

If there is a mechanical ventilation system, make sure that ducts and fans are working. Where there are windows, make sure they are open.

Consider installing a combined washer / dryer in your kitchen or bathroom.

Ask layers about common basement garages

These are often mechanically ventilated by a system of fans that only work when carbon monoxide is detected. With modern vehicles, ventilation may not run often, resulting in poor ventilation.

It may be possible to override the sensors; ask the layers to ask people who maintain the system.




Read more:
Many of our buildings are poorly ventilated and this increases the risk of COVID


4. Use a mask before opening the door

Make sure you and all members of your household put on a mask before opening the door to your apartment. Many people are used to wearing surgical masks or cloth masks.

However, OzSAGE, an independent group of researchers providing evidence-based advice on the pandemic, recommends an N95 mask that provides greater protection against the Delta variant.

Woman puts on N95 face mask
N95 masks provide better protection.
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You should wear this mask when receiving deliveries or letting visitors in, as well as when leaving the apartment to move through common areas.

Where there is an outbreak, it may be mandatory to wear a mask in common areas. Even if it is not, you can still ask your layer company to ask residents and visitors to wear a mask and demand this from contractors.

5. Ask about elevators

Elevators are a particular danger in taller buildings. Then ask your layers about the following:

  • limitation of lifting capacity to one person per. 2.5 square meters. If a high-efficiency particulate air purifier (HEPA) can operate continuously in the lift, the density limits can be relaxed if health orders allow
  • make sure elevators go to a free level with the doors open when not in use. Some elevators can be programmed to do this; the company that services the lift will advise.

6. If you can smell your neighbor’s cooking …

Some apartment buildings in Australia have gaps in the top of walls between adjacent apartments. This defective “fire insulation” means that fire can potentially spread between apartments. In theory, split air can also contain contaminated aerosols.

So if you can smell your neighbor’s cooking or something worse, you share their air. If you suspect an air leak and are unable to do anything about it in the short term, using a HEPA air purifier in your apartment will reduce your risk.

If you can smell odor in the common room, you can close your apartment door with self-adhesive pull strips from a hardware store and a door pull plug.

Air purifier inside a home or office
If you can smell a neighbor’s cooking, you may want to consider buying an air purifier.
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7. Open your windows

Open your windows to increase ventilation in your apartment when visitors or maintenance staff are there. Wear a mask if the visitor is not double-vaccinated or if you are otherwise concerned.

There is relatively little evidence of cross-contamination between exterior windows in neighboring apartments, which is reassuring.

Nevertheless, if you open a window, opening a window on your balcony poses less risk (as the air is better dispersed) than opening one directly above or below another apartment window.

8. Test your service increase

Service increases are the vertical ducts that run pipelines for plumbing and ventilation through kitchens and bathrooms in apartment blocks.

Hong Kong research suggests that such canals were associated with multi-storey infections in the Amoy Gardens buildings during the SARS outbreak.

In Australia, many apartment blocks have rudimentary seals for these service ladders. Therefore, make sure that the inspection panels are sealed in place and that the pipes are sealed where they enter any cavity. You may need to hunt inside kitchen or bathroom cabinets to find these.

Turn on an incense stick (or similar) to see if the smoke is circulating to indicate that air is blowing into or out of service elevations. But be careful not to turn off the smoke alarm while testing. If in doubt, cover the smoke alarm to the ceiling with plastic wrap and a rubber band, but do not forget to remove it afterwards.

If you are practical, you can buy fire-rated expanding foam or other products from a hardware store to seal these holes. If you are not, contact the layers to discuss the work. And do not let waste traps dry out.

Lighted incense stick with smoke water
Turn on an incense stick to see where the smoke washes away.
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9. Fix broken exhaust fans

Another potential source of leaks and cross-contamination is shared bathroom and kitchen ventilation systems that work permanently. These are more common in older buildings and you can recognize them by continuous exhaust noise from ventilation openings in the bathroom, toilet or kitchen.

Make sure the fans are working normally and if the fan stops, make sure it is repaired immediately.

Newer apartments may have self-contained exhaust fans that only work when the light or a fan switch is operated. The risk of cross-contamination with this type of installation is low.The conversation

Geoff Hanmer, Honorary Fellow, Faculty of Design, Architecture and Building, University of Technology Sydney

This article is republished from The Conversation under a Creative Commons license. Read the original article.

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