How to Use an Elevator Without Getting the Coronavirus

A sign of the times

By Anna Breuer on 18 May 2020
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Elevators are generally far more convenient than going up and down the stairs, but today – in the age of the coronavirus – each ride appears fraught with peril.

While the first known elevators were likely designed and built by Archimedes, a modern passenger elevator was first built in 1793 by Ivan Kubilin and installed in the Winter Palace or Зимний дворец in St. Petersburg.

Fast forward to 1852, when Elisha Otis built the first safety elevator, which prevented the fall of the cab if the cable broke, and the Equitable Life Building, which opened in 1870 in New York City, was the first office building with passenger elevator service.

Today, we take lifts with floor controls, automatic elevators, acceleration control of cars, and safeties somewhat for granted and – be it in a hotel, office tower, or high-rise apartment building – we squeeze in as many people as we possibly can on the way to our floor.

Until now, that is.

All of a sudden, the humble lift has become infamous as a means by which the novel coronavirus can easily be transmitted via respiratory droplets that are produced when coughing, sneezing, and – yes – even talking.  How well the elevator can do this depends on a multitude of factors including its size, speed of travel, ventilation system (or lack thereof), and how long the doors stay open.

The main issue in an elevator car is direct exposure to someone who expels droplets with the coronavirus infection contained there as well as coming in contact with any high-touch surfaces, but experts differ on whether the particles that remain in the cabin will result in the transmission of the virus.

Another issue is that most elevators are barely large enough to allow two people to remain 6’ (1.82 m) away from each other.

Still, there are several precautionary measures one can take.

1.)       Don’t touch anything with your fingers, including any buttons for floors or opening or closing the door. This includes any railings in the cabin as well.  Use your elbow or cover your finger with a tissue or paper towel when pressing a button, and immediately dispose of it afterwards.

2.)       Wear a mask. You should be wearing a mask anyway but it will protect you from any aerosols the previous passenger may have left behind and protect future passengers from yours.

3.)       Travel alone.  The age of crowding into an elevator in the manner of a  phone booth or Volkswagen Beetle is over.  Simply indicate to anyone else waiting that he should proceed first and wait for the next car.

4.)       If you can’t travel alone for some reason, what ever you do, don’t get in if someone in the car is not wearing a mask.

5.)       To hell with common courtesy, face the wall if you must ride with someone else in the cabin and hope the other person does the same.

(Photo: Accura Media Group)

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