The Truth About Airborne Transmission of Coronavirus
The media and numerous sources heavily focus on hand washing and social distancing to prevent transmission of the virus. These are important measures to follow and need to be followed continuously. However, we need to recognize another factor that is very important: the potential transmission of the virus through the air which may be what’s driving the pandemic. When the states reopened, many businesses such as bars, restaurants, clubs, churches, and others were open with limited indoor capacity. With the number of cases resurging in many states, many businesses are closing again. From the current situation and increasing trend in the number of cases, it is important to focus not only on widely known and broadcasted guidance, but also on the less discussed and dangerous facts that we might not have considered or known.
Crowded and noisy bars where shouting is required to be heard, indoor places where doors and windows are shut, or places where heating or air conditioner is on and recirculating the air… are all the perfect situations for Coronavirus to spread. Donald Milton, a professor of environmental health at the University of Maryland said, “Not only could people pass virus directly from one to another in the little droplets that we all spray to one degree or another when we talk, laugh or sing; but those little droplets also go up into the air where they can float around for at least some time”. He mentions that many health organizations as well as the World Health Organization do not want to talk about airborne transmission as that will make people afraid, which can lead them to stop doing the important things that were emphasized to do, such as hand washing, social distancing, and cleaning surfaces.
Whether that is true or not, let’s think about why hand washing, wearing a mask, social distancing, and cleaning surfaces became the crucial guidelines to follow. Ultimately, it is to minimize inhalation exposure to viruses in microdroplets. As studies have demonstrated, viruses are released when we exhale, cough, or talk, which small microdroplets can stay aloft in air with potential exposure at distances beyond 1 to 2 meters from an infected person. Milton said, “at typical indoor air velocities, a 5 nanometer droplet will travel tens of meters, much greater than the scale of a typical room, while settling from a height of 1.5 meters to the floor”. He added that many people crowd closely together indoors where it is poorly ventilated. If that place is a loud bar with lots of talking, laughing, and shouting, then that’s the perfect setting to drive the pandemic. This applies to many frontline workers as well, where the virus droplets may be even more prevalent due to the infected patients.
The best way to protect these workers is to have them wear an N95 respirator or higher to filter fine aerosols. Improving ventilation, social distancing, and wearing a mask would be other ways for all of us to stop the spread and keep ourselves safe. Please refer to below list for additional advices to prevent Coronavirus transmission:
- Provide sufficient and effective ventilation (supply clean outdoor air, minimize recirculating air) particularly in public buildings, workplace environments, schools, hospitals and age care homes
- Supplement general ventilation with airborne infection controls such as local exhaust, high efficiency air filtration, and germicidal ultraviolet lights (to be placed high up in the ceiling to avoid damage to people’s eyes and skin)
- Avoid overcrowding, particularly in public transport and public buildings
- In a car, open windows and ensure that the air conditioning or heat is set to include outside air
As of now, some schools and universities are considering an option to stay closed and pursue remote learning and some are considering a reopening option. Indoor classes and dorms could be very dangerous for students and it is still unknown what will happen in the fall. Students, employees, business owners, and many other people have been impacted by the pandemic in various ways and all of us miss those days where we did not have to wear a mask or gather closely around with friends and family without a worry.
However, being depressed about the new normal will only hurt our mental well-being and it does not help in stopping this pandemic. What we can do right now to make the change and to be the change will be to follow the guidelines: continue wearing face masks, wash hands, social distance, and if possible, stay at home.
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