Is it safe to get in an elevator with other people after you get the COVID vaccine?

is it safe in an elevator after getting the covid vaccine
Photo via Daniel Lin/Flickr (CC BY SA 2.0)

With COVID-19 cases down and vaccinations on the rise, many business employees who were forced into remote work early in the pandemic will be suiting up and returning to the office. But they might have an understandable degree of anxiety about whether they should board crowded elevators with strangers. So, is it safe to get in an elevator with others after you’ve had the COVID vaccine? 

Elevators can be a claustrophobic experience even removed from a pandemic. But how much of a risk does this actually present—especially for vaccinated individuals? All things considered, the risk is relatively low.

Elevator manufacturer Otis Worldwide Corporation recently commissioned an academic study with Purdue University to investigate the riskiness of COVID-19 exposure in elevators. The results of the three-month Elevator Airflow Study found that exposure on an elevator ride is a relatively low risk using basic mitigation tactics.

By their very design, elevators have significant air exchange with ventilation openings required by code, and many even have fans to increase ventilation. Compared to many other indoor spaces, elevator rides tend to fall on the lower end of the exposure risk activities scale, about on par with shopping in a grocery store.

When all passengers are properly wearing surgical-style masks, that risk reduces by an additional 50%.

Dr. Qingyan (Yan) Chen, a professor of mechanical engineering at Purdue, helmed the study. Chen is widely recognized for his research into the spread and prevention of infectious disease through indoor air systems and serves as editor-in-chief of the Building and Environment academic journal.

Chen and his team looked at likely exposure to the coronavirus—quantified by the frequency, duration, and intensity of possible exposure. Because most elevator rides tend to be relatively short, the team modeled multiple scenarios of two-minute rides to assess relative risk.

“Air exchange is important. Our findings concluded that the higher ventilation in an elevator, relative to the compared activities, results in lower exposure opportunity,” Chen explained. “If all passengers properly wear masks, the relative exposure risk drops 50%. Air purification, called NPBI, can reduce this by an additional 20-30%.”

He added that the team compared the relative exposure risk of elevators to other everyday activities in a typical workday, such as an hour-long bus ride and eight hours in an office environment. They ultimately concluded that riding an elevator was “a lower exposure risk activity, given the short duration of an elevator ride.” In short, it is relatively safe to get in an elevator after you get the vaccine.

“Elevators are an essential part of everyday life for many, often the first leg in your journey and the last on your route home,” said Robin Fiala, vice president of marketing and sales at Otis. “We know many passengers have questions about exposure risks associated with riding an elevator, and we want to provide answers verified by science.”

Fiala added that the company is sharing the results of the study before the time of publication “to keep riders well-informed and limit misconceptions.”

The Poynter Institute for Media Studies notes that elevator occupancy rules still vary around the country. Chicago recently increased the capacity for office building elevators to 50% allowable occupancy (or up to six people), while other state and local governments and facilities are doing away with elevator occupancy limits altogether.

After you get the vaccine, is it safe to …

Sources: Security Magazine, Poynter

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