Plexiglass dividers may do more harm than good, Ontario science table director says

Good ventilation in certain areas may be more important than protection from droplets

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Twenty months after the pandemic began, it is nearly impossible to be in a restaurant and make small talk with those seated at the table next to yours. Protective sheets of acrylic or plastic are now creating a social divide in nearly every restaurant, store, medical office and other businesses.


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But now, one of the top advisors on the Ontario COVID-10 Science Advisory Table is saying the dividers may be ineffective — and even counterproductive. The change comes as researchers have become aware that the virus spreads through aerosols, rather than droplets, and have learned that such fixed barriers in public places can inhibit ventilation that is designed to promote better air flow.

Dr. Peter Jüni, professor of medicine and epidemiology at University of Toronto at St. Michael’s Hospital and scientific director of Ontario’s COVID-19 Science Advisory Table, told Global News that “where you see (them) in schools or restaurants, the plexiglass can impede ventilation and give people a wrong sense of security.”


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And Jeffrey Siegel, professor of civil and mineral engineering at the University of Toronto, told Global that he agrees.

“The fundamental problem with a barrier is that it offers (in some cases) not much protection … what a barrier can do is it makes for poor ventilation.”

But they both agree that barriers are useful in direct, face-face customer-service environments.

And Marianne Levitsky, an industrial hygienist at the University of Toronto’s school of public health, told CTV News that she concurs. “The problem with plexiglass barriers all over the place is they can obstruct the flow of that air. Where it can be useful is where there is the potential for close contact, such as in a store between the cashier and the customer.”


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All three agree. “There are plexiglass barriers that are absolutely OK,” Jüni said, “if you have a checkout counter at a coffee shop. Where it’s a problem (is) where you see (it) in schools or restaurants: there the plexiglass can impede ventilation and give people a wrong sense of security.”

But British Columbia Provincial Health Officer Dr. Bonnie Henry told reporters this week that appropriately placed barriers help to prevent droplets from going back and forth.

“In and of themselves they’re not everything but, absolutely, they make a difference,” she said.

But not all doctors profess to have the expertise on it.

Dr. Isaac Bogoch, a Toronto infectious diseases specialist, told CTV that it would be wise to consult experts in several fields.

“I would yield to my engineering colleagues on this one,” he said.



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