As the fall semester begins in some school districts, more and more people are wondering how to stay safe from contracting COVID-19 and the even more contagious delta variant while interacting with others indoors.
The delta variant lasts perhaps three to five hours in the air in an indoor space.
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"Masks are absolutely going to be the first line of defense," said Dr. Kim Prather, Director of the NSF Center for Aerosol Impacts on Chemistry of the Environment at the UC San Diego, with KCBS Radio’s Dan Mitchinson and Holly Quan on "Ask An Expert" Tuesday morning.
But many people make the mistake of wearing their masks while someone else is in the room, and then removing their masks after the other person has left. "But the virus will remain long after the people are gone," she said.
And there are multiple layers of protection needed, not just masks. "It’s so important to be cleaning the air," she said. "I am concerned that people are not hearing that message as much."
"It’s a totally doable thing," said Prather, to filter or clean the air. "But somehow it’s out there that it’s too hard or too expensive."
As long as indoor spaces are diligent about cleaning the air and enforcing masking, the area should be safe. But not all are able to do so.
Prather thinks that for some school districts, it might be too soon to welcome children back into the classroom. "If I had to estimate, I would say 95% of schools still haven’t cleaned their air," she said.
There are more affordable options that schools lacking funding can use to ensure the safety of their air, said Prather. A $50 "Corsi/Rosenthal Box" can be jerry-rigged to help filter the air, she recommended. "They’re not pretty, but they work, and they protect people."
In some places, teachers are building their own or parents are raising funding to supply them.
"Once again, we’re not being led by public health leaders on this," said Prather.