By Dr Connor Bryant, co-founder of air purification technology company MedicAir (www.medicair.co.uk)
Following the final stage of England’s Covid lockdown roadmap, social distancing and masks will no longer be a legal requirement from 19 July. New care home residents will no longer have to isolate for a 14-day period, provided they have been double vaccinated, and test negative for COVID. Social care minister, Helen Whately, has warned there will still have to be “some precautions” around care homes, although these have not been confirmed.
While the relaxing of rules may be welcome to those who have missed out on spending time with family members looked after by carers, this may be causing alarm to care home professionals still struggling to prevent the spread of COVID-19.
We of course now know that COVID-19 is an airborne virus, which has dramatically increased awareness of air quality, with more than half (54 per cent) of people in the UK now worrying about what is in the air they breathe, rising to 62 per cent for those with respiratory conditions.
Millions of people say they will keep wearing a face covering as a long-term choice to protect their health. Over 9.5 million (17.7 per cent) people plan to always wear a face mask in public places, despite the government’s coronavirus restrictions lifting, according to our research. However, masks being optional does increase the risk of the virus spreading, and limits protection for carers and their patients.
Since the start of the pandemic, 9.8 million people (18.2 per cent) have changed their behaviours and when in buildings always open windows to allow a flow of fresh air and to boost air circulation. The pandemic has made people more conscious of their physical environment, with 56 per cent of people even prepared to avoid enclosed spaces and where there is poor air flow. However, this is not always possible in care homes when security and safety must be taken into consideration.
Additionally, with grass pollen counts at their highest at this time of year, alongside light winds blowing pollen around, many are suffering with severe hay fever, even for those spending most of their time indoors. Pollen can cause asthma symptoms to worsen, which can be especially difficult to deal with alongside long-term respiratory conditions. In fact, allergy sufferers can experience some of the same symptoms as those with COVID or those who have just been vaccinated, which is causing huge levels of anxiety.
Ultimately, by improving air quality, carers and residents will benefit from a reduced risk of airborne viruses both now and in the future. This will also allow peace of mind and in time, more frequent visiting options for those who have spent so long away from their loved ones over lockdown. It will be vital to build trust as we move to a ‘new normal’, with heads of care homes needing to demonstrate their commitment to clean air in the long term.