In addition to keeping hands washed and wearing a face mask, experts have long recommended keeping at least six meters apart in order to prevent the spread of the new coronavirus.
But is that amount of distance enough?
Maybe not, a new study suggests that coronavirus-infected aerosols can travel more than six meters – in indoor rooms with at least poor ventilation.
Researchers at the University of Florida say their study offers “direct evidence” that virus-infected aerosols, or droplets, can pose a risk of transmitting the virus.
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Health representatives say that the most common route of virus transmission occurs when an infected person coughs, sneezes or talks and virus-loaded particles land on someone nearby.
The World Health Organization updated its guidance last month to include the possibility of airborne transmissions in cramped, poorly ventilated indoor spaces, a statement that increased the risk beyond medical procedures that generate aerosols, such as in dentistry.
In the current study, researchers said their findings “strengthen the view that airborne transmission of viable SARS-CoV-2 is likely and plays a critical role in the spread of COVID-19.” The study was published in the pre-print server with Rxiv on August 4, which means that it has not yet been reviewed.
To complete the study, researchers collected aerosols containing the virus through VIVAS air samplers in a hospital room with coronavirus patients at the University of Florida Health (UF Health) Shands Hospital in Gainesville, Fla.
Two patients were in the hospital room being studied. One patient had coronary heart disease and their swab test was positive COVID-19. The other patient was admitted four days before and tested positive at that time. When the air sample was taken, the other patient had tested negative and was about to be discharged.
The air samples were placed from 2 to 4.8 m (6.6 feet and 16 feet, respectively) from the patients and a viable virus was isolated in the air samples. In other words, researchers said the virus particles could travel up to 16 feet in a hospital room.
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“For aerosol-based transmission, measures such as physical distance of 6 feet would not be helpful in an indoor environment and would give a false sense of security,” the author wrote.
The study comes amid a thorny debate about reopening of schools when officials examine health risks and the role of airborne COVID-19 transmission in classrooms.
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