Sampling Air Quality at a Seattle Goth Club

Following a pandemic-induced shutdown, local SeaGoth bar/dance club The Mercury has been reopened for just over a year now. I haven’t returned yet, but I’d heard through the grapevine that they’d done a lot of work on their HVAC system during their hiatus, and apparently have a system that meets or exceeds what’s expected for hospital grade systems.

Sounds pretty good — but I was curious as to just what that meant for their air quality, especially as this is a basement club, and with any such place, is likely to have a lot of people talking and breathing heavily when out on the dance floor. Plus, while I’ve been told that many people are wearing masks while they’re there, it’s by no means 100% (and, of course, it’s safe to assume that those who don’t/won’t mask are at higher risk than those who do).

I had a friend who was heading out there last Saturday night for a little while, and between the one-year re-opening anniversary and there being a merchandise table to distribute shirts and hoodies that people had purchased in a recent fundraiser, we could expect that there would be a good number of people there, even early in the evening. My friend was kind enough to carry along my Aranet4 CO2 monitor during their time there.

Though only there for about an hour, while there, in order to get the best possible “worst case” scenario, they made sure to sit near the merchandise table where people were gathering, and went out on the dance floor a few times. Yesterday I picked up the monitor and loaded its record to see the results.

The end result was, to be entirely honest, much better than I’d expected. The air quality stayed in the green the entire time they were there, averaging around 800 ppm. This is really impressive for that sort of situation.

A graph of CO2 measurements from roughly 9 to 10 p.m. Spikes at the beginning and end of the graph show when the carrier was in their car going to and from the club. The line between the spikes from when the carrier was in the club stays in the green. The displayed measurement point at 9:22 pm is 785 ppm.

Of course, there are some definite caveats to this:

  • It was the first hour, so even with their best efforts to find the most crowded areas, this may not be entirely indicative of what might be measured at peak times.
  • This is a measure of CO2 levels, not COVID or other viruses; you can still be exposed even in a well-ventilated space, even if the likelihood is reduced.
  • And because of that, however good the air quality is, there’s always the chance of talking with someone who is unmasked, asymptomatic, and exhaling their viral load directly into your face.

Since community transmission levels for the Seattle area are still pretty high, I’d still definitely recommend wearing a mask when out clubbing.

However, seeing measurements like this tells me that the money, time, and effort spent upgrading the club’s systems was well spent. I’m still keeping an eye on community transmission levels before I go out, but when I do, I’ll feel a lot more comfortable (though I will be staying masked as well).

(The spikes at the beginning and end of the graph are from when my friend was in their car going to and from the club.)

Hey, come jump off a bridge with me!

I think a large part of why I’m so frustrated by the “well, nobody else is bothering with having a mask mandate, so there’s no point” argument is that we’re living through a real-world, literal version of the old parental peer-pressure cliché of “if everybody else jumped off a bridge, would you?”

As kids, it’s such an obviously mockable cliché, because of course not. Jumping off a bridge is an obviously life-threatening activity, so first off, that’s not something that a lot of people would do, and secondly, I sure wouldn’t be so foolish as to do that.

And yet. Here we are. With society at large jumping off every bridge around, and people lining up to jump with them.

Only it’s worse than that, because jumping off the bridge is a solo action that only threatens the life of the person jumping. But refusing to mask or encourage others to mask means that the jumpers are grabbing those next to them and pulling them over the edge of the bridge as they jump.

And here we are.

Keep Masking In Public

In case you or your organization/workplace has been waiting for the CDC to recommend masks — the CDC is (once again) (finally) recommending wearing masks in public spaces to protect against catching and spreading respiratory diseases such as RSV, flu, and yes, COVID.

The Centers for Disease Control Prevention on Monday encouraged people to wear masks to help reduce the spread of respiratory illnesses this season as Covid, flu and RSV circulate at the same time.

CDC Director Dr. Rochelle Walensky, in a call with reporters, said wearing a mask is one of several everyday precautions that people can take to reduce their chances of catching or spreading a respiratory virus during the busy holiday season.

“We also encourage you to wear a high-quality, well-fitting mask to prevent the spread of respiratory illnesses,” said Walensky.

They’re also (finally) pointing out that you don’t have to wait for the CDC to encourage masking to put a mask on.

“One need not wait on CDC action in order to put a mask on,” Walensky said. “We would encourage all of those preventive measures — hand washing, staying home when you’re sick, masking, increased ventilation — during respiratory virus season, but especially in areas of high Covid-19 community levels.”

(And in case you haven’t checked recently, while the based-on-hospital-capacity level for King County is “low”, the King County community transmission level — a better metric to track, as preventing community transmission would do more to keep people healthy than only paying attention to when they’re sick enough to land in the hospital — is “substantial”, and there is no county in Washington that has “low” community transmission levels.)

Out in public? Wear your mask. Keep yourself and those around you safe.

Travel and CO2

A day of travel, as “seen” by a Aranet4 portable CO2 monitor.

Reading this: basically, CO2 levels are a measure of how well a space is ventilated, and can therefore be a handy proxy for a rough idea of how likely it could be that there might be infectious particles (flu, COVID, etc.) in the air. Lower CO2 = better ventilation and less chance of any bugs in the air, Higher CO2 = worse ventilation, stale air, and higher chance of other bugs in the air. It’s not a one-to-one connection, obviously, as there are other variables, such as number of people in the area, but it can be a good way to get a rough measure of the ventilation.

So here’s how my day went (all times shifted one hour from what’s shown on the graph due to the time change).

A graph of CO2 levels over the course of a day. Marks on the graph separate it into sections: at the hotel (in the low range), at the airport (medium range), on the airplane (high range), and in a car home (low range).
Being able to see this change over the course of the day was fascinating.

Until about 8am, I was at the hotel. Levels stayed in the green and slowly decreased through the night, then increased into the yellow as I woke up and was active and moving around, showering, packing, etc.

8-9am, outside and on the light rail to the airport. Nice and green.

9-noon, in the airport, often in the midst of lots of people as I went through the TSA lines. Even in the large, high-ceilinged airport areas, with lots of room for air to move, levels were generally in the yellow. This is part of why crowded situations, even in large or outdoor areas, are still good places to be masked.

Noon-2pm, on the airplane. Lots of people in a fairly small, confined space. Airplanes might have “good” ventilation, but there’s only so much that can be done, and it was solidly in the red the entire time. I was okay with my KN95 through the airport, but switched to an N95 from just before boarding until after disembarking in Seattle, didn’t eat on the plane, and used a straw when drinking to minimize intake of unfiltered air.

2-3pm: Getting my baggage and taking a Lyft home. Right back into the green.

This was a handy little gadget to have with me this week. That, plus masking, plus vaccination and boosters, and I’m feeling pretty confident in my safety measures.

Happy Plagueiversary II

Today marks the end of our second year of the Covid pandemic (counting from my own personal starting point, the last in-person Norwescon ConCom meeting, in March of 2020).

Last year on this day I posted a rundown of the last times I’d done something before going into lockdown.

Today, we’re not quite as much in lockdown as we were then, but we’re by no means back to a pre-pandemic concept of normal. Since this time last year:

We still haven’t gone out to any indoor performances. We went to a couple outdoor performances in parks last summer, but we weren’t yet entirely comfortable with that, and it didn’t last long.

We’ve had one brief trip to Portland to visit my mom, during the time when Delta was decreasing and Omicron hadn’t hit yet, a brief unplanned stopover with Prairie’s family in Olympia on the way back from that, and we’ve had one big family gathering for Prairie’s side of the family in Olympia. Other than that, still no travel or family visits.

I still haven’t been back to the Mercury, though it’s been open for a couple months now.

We did one weekend travel of “cabin camping” over the summer.

Neither of us has been in a big crowd.

I went to a small weekend gathering with the Norwescon Executive Team for our annual retreat to plan this year’s convention, but that’s been the extent of my external socializing.

We’re still staying home most of the time. All of our groceries are delivered or curbside pickup. We don’t go to restaurants; any food not cooked here is either drive-through or Door Dash.

Two years down. Mask and vaccine check requirements are being dropped, but it’s not at all clear that we’re “safe” yet, and we’re all still figuring out what the new normal is going to be.

I just hope the more optimistic assessments of where we’re heading are correct. I’m generally a pretty naturally optimistic person, and two years of the pessimists being proved correct at nearly every turn has been rather difficult. We’ll see what happens from here….

We’ve Lost the Ideal of the Common Good

From the New York Times: Vaccine Hesitancy Is About Trust and Class:

…people who reject vaccines are not necessarily less scientifically literate or less well-informed than those who don’t. Instead, hesitancy reflects a transformation of our core beliefs about what we owe one another.

Over the past four decades, governments have slashed budgets and privatized basic services. This has two important consequences for public health. First, people are unlikely to trust institutions that do little for them. And second, public health is no longer viewed as a collective endeavor, based on the principle of social solidarity and mutual obligation. People are conditioned to believe they’re on their own and responsible only for themselves. That means an important source of vaccine hesitancy is the erosion of the idea of a common good.

Americans began thinking about health care decisions this way only recently; during the 1950s polio campaigns, for example, most people saw vaccination as a civic duty. But as the public purse shrunk in the 1980s, politicians insisted that it’s no longer the government’s job to ensure people’s well-being; instead, Americans were to be responsible only for themselves and their own bodies. Entire industries, such as self-help and health foods, have sprung up on the principle that the key to good health lies in individuals making the right choices.

Fast-forward on the Future

Really interesting list from Politico of 17 pandemic innovations that are here to stay:

Amid all the death and heartbreak, Covid-19 also hit fast-forward on the future.

For the past year, POLITICO has been chronicling these changes, from cities to states to the federal government, as part of our Recovery Lab project. One thing we’ve noticed is that many of these pandemic innovations, while birthed in crisis and adopted temporarily, increasingly look like they are here to stay.

Most of these, I think, are pretty good, and any downsides I think can be adapted or worked around as we move forward. The big trick will be holding onto the most beneficial aspects, especially those that benefit marginalized communities but may not be as immediately noticeably beneficial for the majority.