The Role of Aerosols in COVID-19 Transmission

Aerosols in COVID-19 Transmission

Written by Erik Malmstrom, CEO of SafeTraces |  May 27, 2020

Initial Answers to the “Trillion-Dollar Question”: The Role of Aerosols in COVID-19 Transmission and Implications for Safely Reopening Shared Spaces

In an April 14 New York Times article titled “Stay 6 Feet Apart, We’re Told. But How Far Can Air Carry the Coronavirus,” Dr. Michael Osterholm, Director of the Center for Infectious Disease Research and Policy at the University of Minnesota, posed a question with enormous implications for global health and safety as we return to shared spaces in the absence of a vaccine and reliable rapid testing: 

“The question is what does it take for you to get infected? And that I think is the trillion-dollar question we have…maybe all it takes is an aerosol. You don’t need any droplets at all.” 

Dr. Osterholm highlights one of the critical “known unknowns” of COVID-19 – the transmission role of aerosols, or particles under five microns in diameter that are emitted while talking and breathing, that can stay suspended in air for hours, and that can travel over 20 feet.

Currently, guidance from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) and the World Health Organization (WHO) of six feet separation in public assumes that large droplets from coughing and sneezing are the principal means of COVID-19 transmission and that most large droplets drop to the ground within six feet.

However, a chorus of prominent experts have emphasized the role of aerosols and air flow as a potentially important transmission vehicle for COVID-19, with emerging scientific research lending credence to their argument:

What does the potential for airborne transmission of COVID-19 via aerosols mean for the air that we breathe in shared spaces that many of us will be returning to? 

On this matter, the American Society of Heating, Refrigerating, and Air-Conditioning Engineers (ASHRAE), a leading professional association whose guidance is widely referred to by facility managers, published a position document on infectious aerosols in April stating:

“Transmission of SARS-CoV-2 through the air is sufficiently likely that airborne exposure to the virus should be controlled. Changes in building operations, including the operation of heating, ventilating, and air-conditioning systems, can reduce airborne exposures.”

Given the complexity, urgency, and our evolving understanding of the risk presented by COVID-19 aerosols, practical application of ASHRAE’s guidance is easier said than done. In our experience, the airborne transmission risk is not always well-understood by facility managers and therefore insufficiently accounted for in reopening plans. Moreover, there is a notable gap in diagnostic tools available for assessing the risk of airborne transmission of COVID-19 indoors.

Based on groundbreaking technology developed with the support of the National Institutes of Health (NIH), our veriDART solution for verifying safe indoor airflows fills this gap. veriDART leverages proprietary airborne tracers that safely mimic the mobility of airborne pathogens like COVID-19 in order to identify high-risk transmission vectors, assess the efficacy of filtration, ventilation, and anti-microbial solutions, and instill public trust and confidence in buildings for safe occupancy.

Joseph Allen, Director of the Healthy Buildings program at Harvard T.H. Chan School of Public Health said, “The evidence suggests that mitigating airborne transmission should be at the front of our disease-control strategies for COVID-19.” As facility managers gradually reopen buildings while preparing for a potential second wave of viral outbreak this fall, veriDART is a powerful tool in the fight against COVID-19  – and gets us a step closer to answering the trillion-dollar question.

Please follow up to learn more and become an early adopter.   

Safety & Traceability in New Industries

Expanding Traceability to New Industries

Date: May 18, 2020

We hope that you and your loved ones are staying safe amidst the ongoing COVID-19 pandemic.

We wanted to provide an update on exciting developments at SafeTraces. At our core, our company is a mission-driven organization committed to solving the biggest, toughest safety challenges in the world. Until recently, we have been exclusively focused on food and agriculture-based applications of our technology. And for good reason. There is tremendous need for technology-enabled solutions for food safety and authenticity – consumers demand it, regulators mandate it, and food companies invest in it as a key source of value and competitive advantage.

Our miniDART and saniDART solutions represent major technological breakthroughs for food safety. miniDART is the first and only on-food traceability solution, leveraging edible, invisible DNA-based barcodes (FDA GRAS) that are applied directly to the food or ingredient and that a downstream purchaser can read with a rapid, inexpensive, on-site test to verify product source and authenticity. saniDART is the first rapid solution for verifying sanitation effectiveness at a microbial level to receive approval from AOAC-International, the gold standard for proprietary testing methods in food safety.

However, in recent months, opportunities beyond food and agriculture have increasingly demanded our attention for three important reasons. First, COVID-19 has created seismic global health and economic challenges that our technology is uniquely suited to help mitigate. Second, many companies outside of food and agriculture have sought our support, seeing our technology as a valuable solution to safety and security challenges confronting their operations. Third, our technology is highly versatile, enabling deployment in a wide variety of applications at scale. And that is why we have been compelled to support two other global industries facing enormous, urgent challenges:

Verifying Safe Airflow in the Built Environment

COVID-19 represents an unprecedented threat to public health and the global economy. As of mid-May 2020, Johns Hopkins counts nearly 300,000 deaths and four and a half million confirmed cases of COVID-19 globally in less than six months, sadly with these statistics forecasted to continue increasing until a vaccine is successfully developed.

Ranging from office buildings to nursing homes to food processing plants, the virus presents a major safety and health risk to the built environment given the complexity of airflows and the risk of airborne transmission. Currently, property managers lack adequate tools for assessing and mitigating this risk safely.

In response, we are excited to launch veriDART, our groundbreaking solution that leverages airborne tracers that safely mimic the mobility of pathogens like COVID-19 in order to verify safe airflows for building occupancy and re-occupancy. veriDART empowers property managers with a powerful tool to identify high-risk transmission vectors, ensure effective filtration, ventilation, and other protective measures, and target remediation actions. veriDART draws on SafeTraces’ deep expertise in surrogate particle development, built over years with support from leading institutions like the National Institutes of Health (NIH).

Anti-Counterfeiting for Pharmaceuticals & Nutraceuticals

The World Health Organization (WHO) estimates that the $200 billion global market for counterfeit drugs, touching nearly every therapeutic class, kill hundreds of thousands of people annually. Additionally, counterfeit nutraceuticals pose a serious threat to consumers as more than 50% of FDA Class I recalls between 2004 and 2012 were for dietary supplements. Product security stops at the unit of sale level, enabling significant risk of fraud, adulteration, and diversion during manufacturing and distribution.

To meet this growing need, we have introduced our on-dose traceability solution that leverages edible, invisible, FDA-GRAS, DNA barcodes that are mixed with coating or ingredients and applied to directly to pharmaceutical and nutraceutical pills during regular production. In turn, downstream supply chain partners can verify the authenticity, origin, and safety of a dose or its ingredients within 25 minutes more accurately and reliably than with traditional packaging-based serialization.

In closing, broadening our mission to ensure the highest safety standards of the food we eat, the medicine we take, and the air we breathe is an exciting and natural evolution of our company. Now more than ever, people demand transparency and assurances from food companies, drug manufacturers, and property managers regarding their safety practices. We are honored to tirelessly support our customers in making a better, safer world.

Sincerely,

Erik

 

 

Erik Malmstrom


Erik has been a leader at the intersection of agriculture and technology in senior roles at Farmers Business Network, Cargill, and the White House. He is a co-founder of CrossBoundary, a leading frontier market investment advisor, and is a combat veteran and graduate of U.S. Army Ranger and Airborne Schools. He received his undergraduate degree from the University of Pennsylvania and a joint M.B.A. – M.P.P. from Harvard Business and Kennedy Schools.

 

Lessons in COVID-19

Lessons in COVID-19

Date: March 25, 2020

Takeaways for the Future of Food Safety

Erik Malmstrom

The COVID-19 pandemic has exposed our dangerous lack of public health readiness to contain the rapid spread of a deadly virus in the US, demonstrated by our insufficient testing capabilities and our inability to effectively track and trace in the early days of the outbreak. While there is no evidence that COVID-19 can be transmitted by food or food packaging, it is fair to question the US food system’s preparedness for pandemics in which food has greater potential to be a carrier. Identifying and addressing weaknesses now has the potential of mitigating the risk of catastrophic health and economic consequences in the future.

In the US, a multi-stakeholder coalition of the Center for Disease Control (CDC), Food and Drug Authority (FDA), Department of Agriculture Food Safety and Inspection Authority (USDA-FSIS), and state and local public health authorities is responsible for responding to infections and outbreaks transmitted through food. Enacted in 2011, the Food Safety Modernization Act (FSMA) upgraded the US food safety system for produce and processed food, governed by FDA, by requiring stronger tracking of foodborne illnesses, stronger oversight of food production, stronger preventive controls, and empowering FDA with mandatory recall authority. However, at the time of FSMA’s enactment, Congress did not simultaneously upgrade safety standards for meat and poultry, governed by USDA-FSIS, with food recalls continuing to be almost all voluntary and initiated by manufacturers and distributors.

Consequently, critics believe that fragmentation of the food safety system in the US has resulted in “inconsistent oversight, ineffective coordination, and inefficient use of resources.”¹ Moreover, the current system has led to bifurcated outcomes – total produce and processed food recalls governed by FDA have decreased 34% since the implementation of new food safety plans for food companies in 2016, with the most hazardous recalls (Class I) dropping 54%. Meanwhile, total meat and poultry recalls governed by USDA-FSIS have increased 65% since 2013, with the most hazardous recalls (Class I) increasing by 85%.²

Technological modernization is another challenge and opportunity for food safety. In 2019, the FDA launched a major initiative called “The New Era of Smarter Food Safety” in order to “leverage technology and other tools, to create a more digital, traceable, and safer food system.”³ In many respects, the US food industry lags behind other industries with respect to its level of technological sophistication for ensuring the safety and security of its supply chain. One of the most glaring gaps between current food industry practice and commercially available technology used in other industries pertains to rapid testing for food safety and traceability. As we’ve seen with South Korea and other Asian countries that have most effectively responded to COVID-19, deploying rapid testing, tracking, and tracing technology in healthcare, early and often, can have a decisive impact on containment. Similarly, rapid testing, tracking, and tracing technology is extremely valuable in identifying and removing lethal contaminants in the food chain.

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