Airborne Coronavirus: What You Should Do Now

From New York Times (7/9/2020) –

How to protect yourself from a virus that may be floating indoors? Better ventilation, for starters. And keep wearing those masks.

The coronavirus can stay aloft for hours in tiny droplets in stagnant air, infecting people as they inhale, mounting scientific evidence suggests.

This risk is highest in crowded indoor spaces with poor ventilation, and may help explain super-spreading events reported in meatpacking plants, churches and restaurants.

It’s unclear how often the virus is spread via these tiny droplets, or aerosols, compared with larger droplets that are expelled when a sick person coughs or sneezes, or transmitted through contact with contaminated surfaces, said Linsey Marr, an aerosol expert at Virginia Tech.

Aerosols are released even when a person without symptoms exhales, talks or sings, according to Dr. Marr and more than 200 other experts, who have outlined the evidence in an open letter to the World Health Organization.

What does it mean for a virus to be airborne?
For a virus to be airborne means that it can be carried through the air in a viable form. For most pathogens, this is a yes-no scenario. H.I.V., too delicate to survive outside the body, is not airborne. Measles is airborne, and dangerously so: It can survive in the air for up to two hours.

For the coronavirus, the definition has been more complicated. Experts agree that the virus does not travel long distances or remain viable outdoors. But evidence suggests it can traverse the length of a room and, in one set of experimental conditions, remain viable for perhaps three hours.

How are aerosols different from droplets?
Aerosols are droplets, droplets are aerosols — they do not differ except in size. Scientists sometimes refer to droplets less than five microns in diameter as aerosols. (By comparison, a red blood cell is about five microns in diameter; a human hair is about 50 microns wide.)

From the start of the pandemic, the W.H.O. and other public health organizations have focused on the virus’s ability to spread through large droplets that are expelled when a symptomatic person coughs or sneezes.

These droplets are heavy, relatively speaking, and fall quickly to the floor or onto a surface that others might touch. This is why public health agencies have recommended maintaining a distance of at least six feet from others, and frequent hand washing.

But some experts have said for months that infected people also are releasing aerosols when they cough and sneeze. More important, they expel aerosols even when they breathe, talk or sing, especially with some exertion.

Scientists know now that people can spread the virus even in the absence of symptoms — without coughing or sneezing — and aerosols might explain that phenomenon.

Because aerosols are smaller, they contain much less virus than droplets do. But because they are lighter, they can linger in the air for hours, especially in the absence of fresh air. In a crowded indoor space, a single infected person can release enough aerosolized virus over time to infect many people, perhaps seeding a superspreader event.

What’s new is that those two things may not be enough. “We should be placing as much emphasis on masks and ventilation as we do with hand washing,” Dr. Marr said. “As far as we can tell, this is equally important, if not more important.”

Should I begin wearing a hospital-grade mask indoors?
Health care workers may all need to wear N95 masks, which filter out most aerosols. At the moment, they are advised to do so only when engaged in certain medical procedures that are thought to produce aerosols.  For the rest of us, cloth face masks will still greatly reduce risk, as long as most people wear them.

To read the complete article: https://www.nytimes.com/2020/07/06/health/coronavirus-airborne-aerosols.html?referringSource=articleShare

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Hayward Score Staff
Staff articles are researched, written, edited, and reviewed by the Hayward Score team and its network of advocates and subject matter experts.
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