This is not a blog about COVID-19

By Rebecca Barnett

I am a deeply romantic sod. Can’t help myself. So obviously for Christmas 2020 I gifted my massage therapist spouse a CO2 monitor. Are you hearing a Kenny Gee saxophone solo right now too?

So what happened after the gifting? (TMI trigger warning).

Well, after the predictable waves of erotically-charged COVID-safish displays of affection waned, aforementioned spouse – henceforth known as CO2bro – got on with the task of testing and monitoring the ventilation levels in his clinic.

But wait – why are we talking about CO2 monitors anyway?

CO2 monitors are the must-have accessory of the modern massage therapist. They are the newest tool in the toolbox. Cause CO2 measurement is a darn-good proxy for how well ventilated your clinic space is.

Still don’t know why I am banging on about it? Read this.

Actually, read it anyway.  It’s pretty excellent.

Also read this. I give it 5 stars.

I mean … if you’re not frantically searching for CO2 monitors on eBay now are you even a massage therapist? There are a bazillion kinds out there, ranging from about $30AUD through to luxury models at around $200. You can purchase them on eBay or Amazon or at your local hardware store or many many places.

Prepare to be astonished when you start using one. And not necessarily in a good way.

The monitoring begins

It started off swimmingly. CO2bro began monitoring in January, returning to practice after the Northern Beaches and Berala COVID clusters were under control. (At one point, we were surrounded by exposure locations so a temporary shut down was necessary. For our overseas audience, please bear in mind that an outbreak in Australia can mean community transmission in single digits. The city of Perth is just about to come out of a 5-day lockdown due to a single case of the UK COVID variant in a hotel quarantine worker.)

It’s the height of summer in Sydney. As the pics below show, CO2bro’s clinic is in an old building, built long before air-conditioning transformed the way we design our homes and offices. It has two nice big windows, a high ceiling and a door opposite the windows, which mostly stays closed during appointments for privacy.

On a breezy summer day, the clinic windows are open continuously and CO2 in the room hovers around 400ppm, which is pretty close to parity with outdoor levels. That’s good ventilation. (Ideally, you want CO2 to stay below 600ppm). On a still day without a breeze, it starts to slowly creep up. After around half an hour, the door opposite needs to open to maintain good ventilation. Having the clinic door open has necessitated some new client privacy protocols and has other infection control implications but that’s a story for another blog post.

The cold day …

As you good folk know, people get cold on a massage table pretty quickly. And even during a Sydney summer, you get those occasional days where it’s cool enough for clients to feel the chill. And we had one of those days in Sydney a few weeks ago. So CO2bro closed the windows and turned on the gas heater.

Then this happened …

Within 10 minutes, the CO2 leapt to (drum roll please) 2600ppm! Imagine how much COVID soup you’d be in if there was an infectious person in the room?

There’s about 72 effin’birds cartoons I would like to display at this point.

CO2bro had to do some quick thinking to manage the appointment and the ambient temperature in the clinic. Pivoting on the go.

But, hang on, the blog title said this wasn’t about COVID-19

And, yes, in my tricky way I have stuck to that brief because this isn’t a blog post about COVID-19. It’s a blog post about COVID-21.

As depressing as that sounds, particularly in the context of an immensely COVID-fatigued world, be prepared to start hearing about COVID-21. Because my bold prediction is that this is how we will start to refer to the new COVID variants that are showing themselves to be more transmissible and thus more devastating than their 2019 edition monster parent.

And the massage therapy industry can’t afford to ignore the implications of this. If you haven’t started monitoring and addressing ventilation issues in your clinic with engineering controls, it’s time to start now. If that means investing in an air purifier that filters viruses, do the research and invest in one now. If you’re working from a home-based clinic, you will need a contingency plan for future shut downs, because if one of the variants gets any kind of foothold in the community in Australia, you will categorically not be able to work from a home-based practice no matter how much separation you have in your facilities. The public health regulations will reflect the elevated seriousness of the risks and home business will be at the front of the line for closure.

We’ve kind of being applying the hierarchy of controls upside down. Be prepared to flip and spend a lot more time in the substitution and engineering control zones.

AMT’s biosecurity committee will be revising our risk assessment resources to reflect the current environment. The AMT massage therapy service restrictions matrix linked above already foregrounds the significance of ventilation. Be prepared for that document to be deployed hard and early in AMT’s guidance if COVID-21 becomes a thing.

You may have heard the term “hygiene theatre” bandied about to describe all the energy and focus invested in fomite transmission (cleaning and disinfecting surfaces) at the expense of aerosols. Be prepared for ventilation vigilance, because that’s what the new variants are asking of us all already.

I know some of you reading this post will be picturing me as Chicken Little, screaming about the sky falling. However, we have manifold evidence from around the world that clearly shows the level of threat that the COVID variants pose.

On the plus side, there is an opportunity here as well … to get creative in how you deliver your services: re-imagine your practice; incorporate more of a coaching and empowerment approach to care; do your client intakes outdoors in a local park; dip your toes into online consults to support your clients. Start somewhere. Anywhere. But please just start.

About the Author

Rebecca Barnett produces more than her fair share of aerosols. Fortunately, she includes “venting” in her list of endorsed skills on LinkedIn.

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  1. I hope you’ve had that heater checked as it may well be the source of a lot of that CO2 reading particularly if it isn’t burning perfectly. Worst case scenario what is registering as CO2 may actually be the much more deadly Carbon monoxide CO. Gas heaters are a common source .

    • The heater is due for a service but it can’t be responsible for the CO2 readings. I need a different kind of monitor for CO1! Don’t know how romantic I am feeling about that …

  2. Thank you for your thoughts inspiring blog Rebecca 🙏🏽
    I am closely considering getting an air purifier now.

    As a member of Choice the consumer website, I had a read about their testing of air purifiers, including catching airborne COVID viruses.
    According to their data the COVID viruses are too small in diameter for the filters in these units.
    However the virus may still get stuck in these filters as they oscillate and can get stuck to the filter walls so these filters can assist in reducing the virus particles somewhat in the air.
    It’s an interesting read on Choice 😊

    I have also been reading up on essential oils with anti-viral properties and therefore have been evaporating eucalyptus or bergamot oil in my clinic since mid May 2020.

    My thoughts are that if the virus floats in the air as the essential oil does, the airborne essential oil droplets may help in weakening viruses in a closed environment, shortening their lifespan as it lands on surfaces.
    My clients actually like these oils and have commented on them positively as it makes them feel the air is more hygienic.
    Food for thought 🤔

    I keep windows and doors open as much as possible but we do get cold days in single digest up here in the Blue Mountains, even in summer.

    While nothing appears 100% safe in a relatively closed working environment , various small measures add up to significantly reduce the risks of transmission and may keep us working longer, in my opinion.

    • Thank you Gerhard. I am glad you enjoyed the post.
      I am not aware of any evidence to support an anti-viral effect for burning essential oils. It’s likely just providing olfactory comfort rather than any protection. But it is interesting that our best defenses at this stage are all pretty low tech things like opening doors and windows to let in good ole fresh air.

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