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Coming back to a new, anomalous normality

In these COVID19-times we are all called to face new challenges in our everyday life.

Even in the best scenario, when we and the people around us are safe and in good health, in fact, a new normality is established. Wash your hands, step out of the door, wear a mask (is it new? Did I wash it recently? Does it cover from chin to nose properly? Oh no, my glasses are fogging up…), go to the market, do not touch your mask, disinfect your hands, come back home (shoes outside, no exceptions!), wash your hands and so on… Actions that we used to perform without any notice now require full awareness and, most of the time, complex operationalization.

Going back to work

BEFORE, we used to cram into crowded public transport, complaining about delays and bad smells. AFTER, we even wonder whether to take the metro at all because it seems more crowded than ever and we do not feel safe. Masks conceal the smile we used to reserve for our fellow commuters and the journey to work has become more lonely. A general sense of discomfort lingers in the air and accompanies us to our desk.

Office hours appear longer as the winter comes and dark afternoons make everything gloomy.

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New normality at work

It isn’t just the shortening of daylight hours, but something more subtle: as time passes, the closed environment gets charged with stale air and we can feel it, even at an unconscious level. For the sake of our mood, brain, health in general and productivity,

we must make it a habit to open windows regularly to replace all of the air within our office, even when it is automatically ventilated.

Opening the windows offers a good opportunity for a relaxing break, stretching legs and exchanging a word with colleagues, stimulating productivity (Economic, Environmental and Health Implications of Enhanced Ventilation in Office Buildings, Int. J. Environ. Res. Public Health 2015, 12(11), 14709–14722; relationships which have been weakened by the current crisis. It also supports the air quality indoors, especially in terms of microbiological risk, and prevents the accumulation of biological aerosols derived from people breathing. This, along with other basic measures like often washing hands and wearing a mask when talking to your colleagues or guests ensures that the risk of exposure to COVID19, as well as seasonal flu and colds, is minimized.

But how often should we open the windows? Is it enough to ensure good air quality in our working space?

School in times of COVID-19 epidemic

In closed communities, like assisted residences for the elderly, the great battle against a new spreading of the virus is fought, but a strategic game is played in schools, as their role is central to support knowledge, skill development, and social life for kids, but also working time for parents.

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Kids are back to school

Rules and protocols elaborated by health authorities are strict, and yet, as expected, the number of cases is increasing with the colder season, putting the system at risk. The question haunting authorities and parents alike is whether there is anything we can do to complement the protocols already in place, but there is no straight answer. Generally speaking, with prevention as the polar star of our efforts, classrooms are not the only target which should be addressed by measures, but also public transport, common spaces, etc. Collaboration among different elements of the community is crucial and therefore measures and protocols should be shared with kids, making them aware rather than obliged to respect them.

But how to share these new responsibilities with kids? How to make them aware of something they cannot see nor touch which limits their life so much? Collaborative learning projects may help in facing this new challenge, as kids are very receptive to messages when they are involved. Educational programs should now include insights from the pandemic experience, guiding pupils through this new anomalous normality we are living with explanations of the rationales of measures taken at the national level and applied to their everyday routine. We are all more willing to respect rules that we understand and share and this is particularly true for school-age children, who understand the reasons behind what surrounds them is the spring for learning. For example, in the past pupils from primary and secondary schools demonstrated great interest in projects for IAQ detection and study: in this period, the study of indoor air pollutants dynamics may be complemented with the definition of actions to be taken at the classroom level, such as opening the windows and cleaning desks during the day, with the cooperation of students.

Air quality monitoring in indoor environments alone is not sufficient to ensure a zero-risk scenario, as direct contact always represents the main transmission pathway, but it may support the implementation of ad hoc protocols, with the optimization of opening windows, for example; this is true for all working spaces, with schools at the top.

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