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Cold drafts of Covid?

It was always going to happen, and has been talked about for a while, but opening doors to create good ventilation in rehearsal rooms was always going to be an issue when the temperature dropped. Human beings are warm blooded creatures, and we don’t like to be cold, so there is an immediate conflict between opening doors and windows when its near or below freezing outside.

But before that, let us go back three weeks and work out where we were then. In the middle of November everything seemed to be going well, Covid infections where high but hospitalisations and deaths were pretty low. Christmas seemed to be looking good with high vaccination rates and booster jabs largely keeping the Delta variant at bay. Bands had been rehearsing regularly with their own take on Covid safe measures, and Christmas concerts and rehearsals were going ahead largely unhindered.

At the time I think most of us accepted that we could be a little more confident about things and plans were being progressed. The weather had also been quite mild and it was not unpleasant to rehearse with doors and windows open.

Photo by CDC on Pexels.com

Fast forward a month and things have changed, due to two significant factors. Firstly, the Omicron variant. When it emerged a couple of weeks ago alarm bells were ringing among scientists about its behaviour and implications. No-one really knows yet, but it appears to spread much more easily than Delta and may be slightly less dangerous; we will have to wait a couple of weeks at least to know for sure. Secondly winter has arrived and temperatures have dipped to uncomfortable levels. These two factors have now combined to create a situation which has put many bands into an impossible situation. Leaving windows and doors open to ventilate spaces causes players to be too cold, so what is the solution?

For many there isn’t one, a lot of band rooms are small and require players to be closer together which means that mitigating factors are important and need to be in place. In this instance ventilation is critical, so the retaining of open windows and doors is the most suitable solution, particularly as it needs little monitoring and the other big one, wearing face coverings, isn’t possible. There have been studies which look at alternatives, such as carbon dioxide meters or opening doors and windows only during breaks rather than constantly.

CO2 meters are interesting, they measure the level of cardon dioxide in the air, and as human beings we breathe out a lot of it. The meters can measure the level of CO2 in the atmosphere, which is normally about 400 ppm (parts per million) outdoors. Inside a level of 800ppm is normally accepted to indicate that ventilation is suitable. The theory being that if the levels go above that then the doors and windows should be opened until the level drops.

This all sounds plausible but there are some caveats. CO2 meters do not measure how much Covid is in the room, only CO2, and if someone is infected without realising it and the CO2 levels seem ok that could still be a dangerous position to be in. In this case if some distancing isn’t possible and doors and windows are closed then Test and Trace may deem that all band members are close contacts, more of that shortly. Also, carbon dioxide levels are arbitrary, a level of 800ppm may be ok in some circumstances but not in others, whereas a higher level may be ok in other circumstances, particularly in a larger room. It is also worth noting that CO2 meters are only suitable for smaller rooms and are less effective the bigger the space is.

There is also a proposal that doors and windows can be opened for 10 minutes every hour to “air” the room. Interestingly the HSE (Health and Safety Executive) only say that this “may” help, so once again the context is important, and of course somebody would need to be responsible for implementing it. My experience is that this would probably work for a while but in time would be forgotten, and how effective it would be is unclear as it would be difficult to measure.

It is only a couple of weeks since the Omicron variant was identified, but it seems that the world has changed very quickly. We are now within a couple of weeks of Christmas, and it is a dangerous point for those with plans for Christmas. Anyone who has a close contact with a potential Omicron case now has to isolate for 10 days “regardless of their vaccination status”. This means that anyone identified, or has the virus, next week will most likely miss out on Christmas once again.

In conclusion Covid is still here and is still a public health risk, and we must recognise, particularly with Omicron, that the number of people in a small band room can present a significantly higher risk.

There are two, probably irreconcilable, sides to this. For my part, my position in band is closest to an open door, so I get the full force of the wintery blasts we have experienced recently. However, I am prepared to put up with this in order to play but sitting in an almost sealed up room keeping the ventilation levels at an arbitrary figure is something that does not sit comfortably with me. There are though others who take the opposite view and are prepared to trust these methods in order to keep warm. This is perfectly legitimate and should be respected, but it is sometimes easy to hear only one side, and bands must also recognise that there are some who would be equally unhappy if rooms were sealed up.

How these two can be reconciled is difficult to see, and committees are in the unenviable and difficult position of trying to square this particular circle. Taking either route risks people not turning up to rehearsals which can equally damage a band.

I don’t pretend to have any answers to this one, suffice to say that it will only be short term, when the weather gets warmer it will largely go away and we can open doors and windows and keep warm.

Roll on the summer!

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