Roma implements humidity-measuring tech to combat COVID-19 spread

As local officials continue to be wary of another surge in COVID-19 cases, the city of Roma will be the first in the country to adopt a new strategy that could help prevent mass spread in indoor settings.

The city will be the first to implement a “visual network of viral safety” that will monitor absolute humidity within buildings to prevent mass spread of the coronavirus indoors.

Dr. Raymond Mussett, a family practitioner based in Roma, and Dr. Jeff Gusky, a board-certified emergency physician and a fellow of the American College of Emergency Physicians, announced the tool’s implementation in Roma during a news conference held Wednesday.

It was there that they both talked about the science behind the use of absolute humidity as a tool against mass spread.

“We’re all hoping for herd immunity with a vaccine but there is another branch of the immune system that doesn’t have to be educated by either a vaccine or becoming infected — it’s called cell-mediated immunity,” Gusky said. “It turns out with COVID, it’s an aerosol which means it’s not micro-droplets, it’s a cloud of sub-micron particles that’s everywhere.”

Absolute humidity is the measure of moisture in the air, regardless of temperature, and an absolute humidity of 10 grams per meter cube or more can activate cell-mediated herd immunity, according to Gusky.

“So that you have people, especially vulnerable people, when they’re breathing safe indoor air they have an immunity that protects them,” Gusky said. “It creates a herd immunity because where enough people are protected, the virus can’t mass spread and that’s what’s happening.”

Gusky noted that while this can prevent mass spread, it does not guarantee that one person won’t transmit the virus to another individual.

“It’s not a cure,” he said. “It’s about preventing mass spread which is why we shut down the country in the first place.”

Gusky said the technology to measure absolute humidity only became available on Aug. 3, and through Roma’s use of the visual network people will be able to log on to the city’s website and see which buildings are being monitored.

Starr County Judge Eloy Vera said the county is currently monitoring humidity at the county courthouse, the courthouse annex and the county jail.

For individuals who want to measure absolute humidity at home, Mussett recommended they purchase a hygrometer, a small device that reads temperature and relative humidity.

“What’s been found is that a relative humidity of around 50-55% is equal to an absolute humidity of 10, 10 or above,” Mussett said.

“What we can do as individuals, certainly in our own homes, is find out our humidity,” Mussett added, “and if there’s not enough humidity in our homes, either adjust your air conditioner systems to allow more humidity or to get a humidifier.”

If people do purchase a humidifier, Gusky recommended an evaporative humidifier versus others that might emit other substances into the air.

The doctor also praised Roma and Starr County for being the first to take on this effort and hoped their work could help educate other areas about this subject.

“As we go forward, we’re going to have learning experiences, we’re going to have pitfalls,” Gusky said. “All of these are learning experiences for the country.”

Vera added that he hoped these new measures worked to protect people but said they weren’t seeking any kind of fame or glory for taking this on.

“We just want our people to be safe and to have a safe life,” he said. “A healthy life.”