Why President Biden Got COVID

And How We Can Finally Get Ahead of New Virus Transmissions

President Biden in isolation at the White House after contracting COVID
President Biden in isolation with COVID at the White House. It is believed that he contracted the BA 5 strain, likely via the air.

Last week President Biden, who is fully vaccinated and has received 2 booster shots, contracted COVID 19. The pandemic has taught us that anybody, even the safest, most cautious people, can get COVID, and that their reactions can vary greatly from asymptomatic, to mild symptoms or very sick, to the need to be hospitalized, and even death. It has also taught scientists a lot about how COVID and other viruses are spread, which is primarily through inhaling viral particles. While the focus was initially on hand hygiene and surface infection prevention strategies like enhanced cleaning protocols, it is now understood that the virus is airborne and transmitted through tiny droplets in the air.  

In fact, “COVID Transmission is 1,000 Times More Likely from Air vs. Surfaces,” according to a 2022 University of Michigan Study, published in the Journal of Exposure Science & Environmental Epidemiology. COVID virus particles are as small as 0.14 microns, and according to the EPA these tiny virus particles, expelled in respiratory droplets, can circulate in the air for hours, lingering even after an infected person has left the space.

Other viruses, including the recently declared public health emergency monkeypox, are also spread via airborne particles. Measles and TB are airborne-exclusive diseases, and Chickenpox, Influenza (the flu), and Pertussis (whooping cough) are all also spread via droplets in the air. One thing that all of these serious diseases have in common is the microscopic size (less than 0.3 microns) of the particles by which they spread.

The most dangerous and contagious airborne viruses are all in the microscopic size range of 0.1-0.3 microns.

All of these facts are leading us towards a better understanding not only of how viruses are spread, but also of how to stop them and create safer, healthier indoor spaces by prioritizing the right air monitoring and purification technologies.

While many air purifiers have popped up to take advantage of the market for such technology, consumers and facilities operators need to be mindful of the true capability and safety of these solutions. Specifically, in according to the EPA in their guide to air cleaners and HVAC filters for helping to combat airborne viruses:

“In order for an air cleaner to be effective in removing viruses from the air, it must be able to remove small airborne particles (in the size range of 0.1-1 µm).” – EPA

Only the most sophisticated, medical-grade air purifying solutions like the Purilux in-ceiling air purifying LED light and the ICON portable, freestanding air healer, both of which use a proprietary combination of ULPA filters and UV light to clean the air, have the capacity to achieve air sanitation down to this level. Standard commercial HVAC systems sanitize to MERV 16 level which does not remove any particles smaller than 0.3, and most commercial and residential air filters are only able to address larger particles like dust, dander, soot, and other allergens in the air while leaving the smaller, more dangerous particles in circulation.

As COVID evolves and new variants like BA 4 and BA 5 continue to fester, causing an alarming average of 100,000 new cases per day, businesses, schools, and buildings of all kinds are challenged to find new ways to stay open and keep inhabitants safe.

Even before Biden’s own COVID diagnosis, the need to upgrade our country’s indoor air quality (IAQ) was top of mind for the White House, who have been working to educate building owners and operators, schools administrators, and the public about the importance of air awareness and safety. This lead the Biden-Harris administration and the EPA to launch the Clean Air in Buildings Challenge, a call for all building owners and operators to improve indoor air quality and protect public health with better monitoring, ventilation and filtration, which includes  $472 billion in funding opportunities for states and school districts.

“It all flows from airborne transmission, and our buildings can make us sick or keep us well,” said Dr. Joseph Allen, director of the Healthy Buildings program at Harvard University’s T. H. Chan School of Public Health, while speaking at the White House’s recent panel discussion on Clean Air. “The reality is we are an indoor species. We spend 90% of our time indoors. It is intuitive and logical then that the indoor environment has an outsized impact on our health, and we have been ignoring it for too long,” he goes on to add, stressing the need to update our buildings. “We have to remove the virus from the air. We can move it out of the building through ventilation we can clean it out of the air through filtration. We can inactivate it through germicidal UV light.”

How could President Biden have avoided getting COVID? The top way to help President Biden and his staff avoid future outbreaks is to focus on IAQ. Shifting our attention to the air to prevent further transmission of COVID empowers us to truly contain the virus. In conjunction with vaccines and proper surface cleaning protocols, air sanitation is an essential factor in stopping the spread and creating safer, healthier spaces for us all.