Letters from Maine

COVID-19 bits and pieces


It turns out that a pandemic, at least this COVID-19 version, can be a challenge for folks like me who are seldom at a loss for words. The pandemic has so overwhelmed every corner of our lives that it is hard to think of another topic on which to pontificate and still not tromp on someone’s political toes. One can always write about the pandemic itself, and I’ve tried that, but as the curtain is gradually being pulled back on this crafty little germ one runs the risk of making an observation today that will be disproved in a week or 2. However, I can’t suppress my urge to write, and so I have decided to share a few brief random observations. Of course they are related to the pandemic. And of course I realize that there is a better than fifty percent chance that they will be proved wrong by the time you read my next Letters from Maine.

Under the radar

Phynart Studio/Getty Images

Two of the many mysteries about SARS-CoV-2 involve young children who as a group appear to be less easily infected than adults and even when infected seem to be less likely to spread the disease to other people, particularly adults. One explanation posited by some researchers in France is that young children are less likely to have symptoms such as cough and are less powerful speakers and so might be less likely to spew out a significant number of infected aerosolized droplets (“How to Reopen Schools: What Science and Other Countries Teach Us.” By Pam Belluck, Apoorva Mandavill, and Benedict Carey. New York Times, July 11, 2020). While there are probably several factors to explain this observation, one may be that young children are short, seldom taller than an adult waistline. I suspect the majority of aerosols they emit fall and inactivate harmlessly to the floor several feet below an adult’s nose and mouth. Regardless of the explanation, it appears to be good news for the opening of schools, at least for the early grades.

Forget the deep cleaning

There has been a glut of news stories about reopening schools, and many of these stories are accompanied by images of school custodians with buckets, mops, spray bottles, and sponges scouring desks and walls. The most recent image in our local newspaper was of someone scrubbing the underside of a desk. I know it’s taking the World Health Organization an unconscionable period of time to acknowledge that SARS-CoV-2 is airborne, but the rest of us should have gotten the message long ago and been directing our attention to air handling and ventilation. The urge to scrub and deep clean is a hard habit to break, but this nasty bug is not like influenza or a flesh eating bacteria in which deep cleaning might help. A better image to attach to a story on school reopening would be one of a custodian with a screwdriver struggling to pry open a classroom window that had been painted shut a decade ago.


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