Peterborough Library launches CO2 monitor loan scheme
Starting Friday, residents of Peterborough, Ont., will be able to visit their local library and rent a device that can help them assess their risk of catching COVID-19 indoors. And Toronto could soon follow suit.
The Peterborough Public Health Unit and Library have teamed up to create a program that lends CO2 monitors for a week at a time. Monitors are hand-held devices that measure the amount of CO2 in the air. Readings can indicate the quality of ventilation in a given space.
The higher the concentration of CO2 in a room, the more you breathe in another person’s breath when you inhale – which is important given COVID and other airborne viruses, which spread when an infected person exhales virus particles.
“It’s a simple idea,” said Dr Thomas Piggott, Peterborough Medical Officer of Health, “and a simple program that signals the importance of getting more information about the airspaces around us as we work on this journey to learn to live with COVID. ”
The idea came from a group of air quality-conscious residents with ties to CO2 monitor makers willing to donate a handful of devices. They approached Piggott, who joined the local public library because it already had equipment loan infrastructure and could support the program.
It was an easy sell, Piggott said – Peterborough Public Library CEO Jennifer Jones was immediately enthusiastic about the program and its usefulness to public health.
Although Toronto Public Health told the Star it had no plans to help facilitate a similar loan program, the Toronto Public Library is in talks with organizations interested in donating CO2 monitors. to lend, according to a library spokesperson.
The Toronto Public Library is still working on a deal to allow it to loan out the monitors, the spokesperson said.
While there is broad support in the medical community for the use of CO2 monitors as COVID risk assessment tools, not all are convinced of their usefulness – despite studies showing that the risk of COVID transmission increases with indoor CO2 levels.
In May, Canada’s National Collaborating Center for Environmental Health released an assessment of the use of CO2 monitors in mitigating COVID risks, in which it expressed concern that monitor results could be misinterpreted, as their readings are technically not “a direct indicator of COVID-19”, only “an indicator of COVID-19 risk”.
While it’s true that high CO2 levels indoors don’t infect people with COVID, they do indicate that the risk of transmission is high if an infected person is in the room with you.
One of the potential ways a CO2 reading could be misinterpreted is the presence of HEPA filters in a monitored room. HEPAs, which remove harmful particles from the air, including those containing COVID and other viruses, have no impact on CO2 levels. So a high CO2 reading may not be as noticeable in a room with an air filtration system.
Another wrinkle is that CO2 levels are in constant flux. The more people there are breathing, shouting, singing, etc. in a room at any given time, the higher the concentration of CO2 will be. If the indoor crowd decreases or a window or door is opened, the CO2 level will change.
Peterborough Public Health outlines the limitations of the devices in an information sheet it distributes to people who borrow the monitors.
“Just because there are challenges with something, if it has benefits, why wouldn’t you use it?” said Piggott. “The speedometers on your vehicle’s dashboards can be faulty or malfunctioning, are we to say you shouldn’t have access to them as sometimes they can be misleading?”
Monitors are useful, Piggott said, to help people know how well-ventilated the places they are in are, so they can exercise appropriate caution when sharing space with people.
“We think getting this information into people’s hands will be helpful and empowering,” Piggott said. “They will be able to know, if they see CO2 levels rising, when it’s time to put on masks, or even better open a window, or blow air from the furnace or an air filter.”
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