Density Matters

As coronavirus forces us to keep our distance, city density matters less than internal density

Elek Pafka is Lecturer in Urban Planning and Urban Design at the Faculty of Architecture, Building and Planning – University of Melbourne. His research focuses on the relationship between material density, urban form and the intensity of urban life, as well as methods of mapping the ‘pulse’ of the city. He has participated in research on transit orientated development, functional mix and high-density living. He has co-edited the book Mapping Urbanities: Morphologies, Flows, Possibilities.

So what kind of density is relevant for the spread of coronavirus? It has become increasingly clear COVID-19 is mainly transmitted through extended close contact, particularly in enclosed spaces, where droplets and aerosols accumulate. The density that matters is internal population density – generally measured as square metres per person.  Thus, high-risk places can include dormitories, open-plan offices, churches, hospitals, public transport, planes and cruise ships. The evidence to date points to much less transmission through casual contacts in outdoor spaces such as streets or parks.

An interesting viewpoint from outside of the medical and political realms.

8 thoughts on “Density Matters

  1. So what do you think about the gym, and the barbershop? As of now in Florida I could go get a haircut. But of the three barbers at the shop I go to, only one wears a mask.

    They are talking about opening the gyms next week. I am trying to decide. Any advice?

    • In the barbershop I would avoid any barbers who are not wearing masks. Small enclosed spaces have a higher transmission risk. Hence the risk comes from non-mask wearers.

      As far as gyms are concerned I would check online first to see what safety protocols have been put in place. Gyms are larger enclosed spaces but your transmission risk will come from hot sweaty people on treadmills and other equipment and lifters who have to make loud noises when they lift. I’d look to see how the equipment was rearranged to lessen the risk. But since gym attendees are health conscious I’d expect a higher degree of mask usage.

      Wear a mask yourself and don’t touch your face.

      And thanks for the Dragonwagon link. She’s awesome.

      • Thank you. I’m going to call the Hair Salon to double check on everything. I was going to wear a mask when I walked in there and waited. But I figure during a Haircut itself I would need to take it off since she has the cut around my ears.

        Do you recommend in the gym my wearing a mask the entire time? Unfortunately at the gym, I doubt all of the clients will wear masks, since there are so many deniers down here in Florida. But I do go to the gym at four in the morning so there are usually only five or six people in the gym.

      • It’s all about minimizing exposures. Wearing your mask for 90% of the time at the salon is 100% better than someone who elects not to wear a mask. If you go to the gym at 4 AM and there are just five or six other people no mask is probably low risk so long as you all maintain appropriate distance from each other. My dentist called yesterday. The dentists and staff will all probably be decked out in full hazmat suits while the patients all have their mouths wide open exhaling…well, everything that you can exhale. A dentist’s office despite the close quarters are riskier for the staff than for the patients. My #1 moved back home after SIX WEEKS. If my favorite ER doc feels it’s safe enough to move back home then local conditions are pretty good. Poke around your state and see if the emergency doctors, nurses, and ICU staff have started moving back into their homes. This is a good eyeball indicator.

      • Where was your son living? Did he get a separate apartment to live in during those six weeks? I haven’t heard of any medical people up in North West Florida moving out of their homes.

        I think the salon scares me more than the gym, since the salon is smaller. But at least the salon does have three separate rooms for haircutting. And I could wait in the car, rather than the waiting room.

        Yes the dentist office has to be high risk. My cleaning the first week of May was canceled. And I couldn’t get another appointment till September. Thankfully it was just routine.

      • Another ER doctor friend’s wife and kids moved into her parents’ home for the six week period. So the friend’s house had two highly exposed people for that time period. The friend’s family moved back and my ER son also moved back into his home at the same time.

      • My son tested negative (twice that I’m aware of) and I know nothing about his friend. I would assume his ER friend has also been tested multiple times with negative results.

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