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This guest post was written by Gopi Mattel, founder and General Partner of Lifeboat Ventures, Director of the Chennai Founder Institute & Mentor for the Silicon Valley Founder Institute. He is the Founder & CEO of MaxBlox, an application development platform, as well as Cellarstone, an Enterprise Incentives Management company. Mattel is an Advisor at the Pepperdine Graziado Business School, and a contributor to the

Flu, COVID-19 and many other viruses have been treated as largely spread by contact, with the exception of being in close quarters exposure. But we very recently found that it was wrong. We had our understanding wrong as to the size of viral particles that made the pathogen airborne. We now know that these viruses stay airborne for hours. 

On average, 50,000 people die in the USA alone, every year, due to the flu. Almost 600,000 around the world, per year. Nursing homes are a risky area for the flu to get out since elders are more vulnerable. We have seen COVID-19 devastate seniors in those centers in very high numbers. 

Schools are a major transmission venue for the flu. Kids tend to catch the flu much easier in the schools and they bring it home. This affects much more vulnerable adults heavily. And schools are far behind in having good air ventilation systems.

Initial advice from the CDC and WHO was to use hand sanitizers, wear masks and practice social distancing. It is now clear that sanitizers are not that useful since contact transmission is minimal. Social distancing and masks help but not enough since the virus stays in the air for hours and people are not consistent in their practices. 

The systemic answer is really to clear the air of viruses completely.

For a long time, outdoor quality has been an important area of focus for our society. Particularly due to the unmistakable visibility of smog. There have been metrics, laws, and initiatives to improve exterior air quality. By and large they have been successful.

On the other hand, indoor air quality has not received much attention. Compared to the number of regulations that govern insulation for the average building, there is only a fraction of attention being paid to indoor air quality. There has been a concept of the “sick building”, but it has been a very fuzzy definition. There has been some attention paid to mold and emission of volatile gases by products such as carpets. There has also been special attention paid to Carbon Monoxide and Radon. Recommended metrics also exist for Carbon Dioxide levels in buildings. 

But with the recent knowledge and experience of the pandemic, the continuous life loss due to the flu, and the potential of another pandemic coming up, society is waking up. Jurisdictions have started passing laws related to air quality and virus exposure. In September 2020, California signed into law an occupational safety (OSHA) requirement that commercial entities have to report exposure to COVID-19, to employees, contractors and the government.

The EPA, CDC, OSHA, HUD, DOL and other agencies are working on changing regulations to make air quality an important aspect of safety and pandemic prevention. More metrics will be identified with requirements to track and report them. In addition, the requirement to ensure air quality will become a part of all construction.

Society is going to require new solutions to measure air quality in all indoor areas including, home, office,  store, school, malls, and arenas. The even harder challenge of clearing the air of viruses and pathogens will also be required. The existing heating, ventilation, and air conditioning (HVAC) systems are the most effective mechanism to implement comprehensive air cleaning.

Lifeboat Ventures is thinking about the problem of air quality in its quest to mitigate disaster impact on society.  It has funded AirRefinery to solve the problem of disinfecting virus such as COVID-19 from indoor air.  


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