How to survive a pandemic in an elevator
I’ve always found elevators safe places, a crossroads between a mobile sanctuary and a friendly robot. Riding in it – in terms of passenger kilometers – is much safer than riding a bicycle or in a car. It is even safer than stairs, although it is worth using those once in a while for your health and to be able to boast about it your friends or your doctor.
But the biggest danger for me in an elevator was having to meet a neighbor or co-worker who – breaking all basic social rules – always seem to try to talk to me in an elevator. For everyone who has grown out of shorts and wiping their nose with a sleeve, it is obvious that the only sensible thing you should do with another person in an elevator is to stand in embarrassment and carefully avoid each other’s eyes.
So, imagine my dissatisfaction when the world turned upside down, and suddenly visiting people became something that only adventurous people do, as opposed to walking alone in the mountains and forests which were taken over by the over-cautious and the sickly. Not to mention when you sneeze in company instead of the familiar ” bless you!” all you get are glances as cold as daggers. And riding in an elevator? I almost prefer to go by stairs. Almost.
It’s no surprise. From a user’s point of view, elevators usually consist of steel, glass and plastic, the three materials on which coronaviruses best survive – if viruses can be thought of as alive – the longest, up to five days. Even when they are very regularly and carefully cleaned, they are still small, closed rooms without windows in which we are forced to be with strangers. Fortunately, the elevator journey usually takes no more than a minute where I live. In New York, due to its massive skyscrapers, the average elevator ride is closer to two minutes.
Of course, human beings are the most creative animals. I don’t actually have any evidence for that sentence, but here are a few examples I can think of – humans can make a springboard from any obstacle, and it is no different in this case. A few months ago, a whole range of very creative, though sometimes unusual ideas for dealing with potential threats spread around the world.
This can be hung on the wall next to the lift, a kitchen sponge made from a washcloth or a polystyrene “hedgehog” tray with stuck toothpicks to avoid touching the buttons, usually along with a tiny garbage can for the used toothpicks. This is a reasonable and inexpensive solution that requires a bit of work, although you have to trust that no one has coughed on the tray.
There is also a wide range of portable “push buttons” for pressing the lift and the door buttons without you touching them, which can be made by hand, eg on a 3D printer, or ready-made, from metal or plastic which can be bought online. The idea seems good at first, at least until you first use it, after which you have to put it in your pocket with pathogens that could theoretically stick to it. Of course, in the elevator itself, many people do not even need any special presser, which can be easily replaced with a key, a cigarette lighter or a mobile phone corner, unfortunately with the proviso as above. An additional bonus you’ll get for using a brass key (usually the brown ones), as the copper which it is mostly made from is harmful to bacteria and viruses, but still takes several hours to become completely safe.
So what can we do? First of all, don’t go overboard with worry. Infection by using an elevator is unlikely under normal circumstances. Infection by briefly touching the same objects is less common than droplet infection, and it takes some time more than with airborne droplets. However, it is definitely worth being cautious and using the following three rules:
- Keep your distance. It is best to stand in one of the corners, facing the exit. Don’t however exaggerate and hug the walls unnecessarily!
- Don’t talk. This also applies to singing out loud, yelling and picking at anything under your fingernails. The latter is only because I don’t like to see others doing this, because of the epidemic.
- Wait for the next ride. In many elevators, the limits on the number of people who can travel together have been officially reduced, but anyway if I’m in no hurry and there are already a few people in the elevator – I’ll wait.
By following these simple steps and other basic hygiene rules – like not touching food and face with dirty hands, not coughing in public – we can dramatically reduce the risks of contracting something unpleasant. These rules will also be useful in the future as we start worrying about seasonal flu and what children may bring home with them from kindergarten or school.
And as we are talking about the future, there are also technical solutions that can reduce the risks and increase the comfort of traveling in our favorite passenger lift, from calling lifts with a contactless card or key ring, through the use of more efficient and modern ventilation systems, antibacterial and antiviral finishing materials, to automatic disinfection between runs with the use of ultraviolet lamps for the especially cautious. These are all are worth considering.