“Never be afraid of open windows … .” ~ Florence Nightingale, 1860.
This timeless adage came back to relevance during a phone call last week. When asked by a director of nursing at a nursing home in LA County whether his staff may open windows to give isolated residents fresh air, I froze. I told myself, “This is exactly what Florence Nightingale preached.” However, I stopped my from unequivocally stating, “Absolutely!” Why? I was concerned (unreasonably) with exposing test-confirmed or suspected COVID-19 residents, as well as staff to COVID-19 droplets attached to outdoor dust and debris.
Current science indicates COVID-19 is transmitted through droplets, not through air. This means the COVID-19 virus cannot naturally suspend in air; on dust particles, water or respiratory droplets. My concern about enabling residents’ exposure to outdoor contaminant through opened windows was a logical, but false narrative for mitigating COVID-19. Opened windows increases air exchanges, by bringing new air into a stale room.
Over 150 years ago, Florence Nightingale introduced meaningful concepts into the world of medicine and clinical management. As systems of healthcare work to prevent, contain, and mitigate the spread of COVID-19 across the globe, Ms. Nightingale’s sound guidance persists. Opening windows is just as relevant today as it was in English military hospitals during the Crimean War. “The purity of air is essential,” and increased air exchanges help droplets fall out of the air more quickly, resulting in better ventilation and improved patient outcomes.