Dr. Dave Thomas, a much-loved professor in the Department of Political Science and International Relations, is on sabbatical this year. A sabbatical year is usually spent pursuing research or working on a major project, though Dr. Thomas’s has also included becoming the unofficial local expert on Corsi-Rosenthal box construction. The Corsi-Rosenthal boxes, named after its inventors Richard Corsi and Jim Rosenthal at the University of Texas, were designed during the pandemic as an effective homemade air filtration system. Traditional high efficiency particulate air (HEPA) filtration systems are quite expensive and largely inaccessible to the average person, though according to Dr. Thomas, the Corsi-Rosenthal boxes he has been making cost between $100-$120 and take less than an hour to make. Comprised of duct tape, air filters, and a box fan, the Corsi-Rosenthal boxes can be made by anyone looking for an affordable, easily accessible means of improving indoor air quality.
This winter has seen high case numbers of respiratory syncytial virus (RSV), influenza, and COVID-19 circulating across the country, especially among children. The lifting of pandemic restrictions has shifted the burden of community health to members of the community themselves. Dr. Thomas works with a group called Protect Our Province New Brunswick (PoPNB) to address COVID-related issues, where he was first introduced to the Corsi-Rosenthal box as a potential solution to improving indoor air quality. People across the world have been using the Corsi-Rosenthal box design to keep their indoor spaces as healthy as possible.
What began as three Corsi-Rosenthal boxes for his own home and to lend to friends has blossomed into a larger project for Dr. Thomas, who has been helping community groups, churches, and other non-profits build the boxes over the past several months. He also held a workshop at the Sackville Commons to teach others how to make their own Corsi-Rosenthal boxes. Dr. Thomas says there has been a lot of interest across the community about air quality and the relatively inexpensive option of the Corsi-Rosenthal box, so he will likely be kept busy in the foreseeable future helping others make their own homemade air filtration systems.
While Mount Allison has maintained its mask mandate, masks have become a rare sight elsewhere, making issues like air quality more important now than ever before. Air filtration systems like the Corsi-Rosenthal Box help reduce airborne particulate matter, with reports indicating their effectiveness in removing SARS-CoV-2 virus-sized particles. Although the federal and provincial governments have seemingly moved on from COVID-19, it remains a very real threat to people’s health, especially those who are elderly and immunocompromised. Though it is far from being a panacea, according to Dr. Thomas, “air filtration is one layer of protection, along with vaccination, ventilation, and masking that can help us stay safe and healthy.”
The efforts of Dr. Thomas and other concerned citizens across the province to address air quality in response to the ongoing COVID-19 pandemic are an example of the power of grassroots movements and the commitment of average people to step in to help their communities when the government steps back.