Previous investigations and public guidelines have assumed that the SARS-CoV-2 virus can only be transmitted if an infected person is coughing or sneezing in close proximity to a person or surface, but more recent accounts seem to suggest that the virus is airborne, which means it can be transmitted through much finer water droplets that can linger in the air for hours, even if a person who has contracted Covid-19 is simply breathing or talking. Here’s what it means and what you need to know.
‘Evidence Emerges’ That Covid-19 Is Airborne
The World Health Organization (WHO) guidelines suggest that the novel coronavirus can only be spread through larger water particles transmitted through coughing and sneezing, but recently, over 230 scientists worldwide have written to the organization to update these guidelines and confirm that the virus is airborne and can spread through microdroplets. In response, the WHO recognized that there is 'emerging evidence' that the virus is airborne.
The difference between the two may seem subtle, but it is crucial, as airborne diseases are much easier to contract and require stricter protection guidelines. This also means that a person who carries the virus, whether they exhibit symptoms of Covid-19 or not, will also be capable of spreading the virus through breathing, talking, and not only coughing and sneezing as previously estimated.
In addition to that, airborne viruses can spread further away than just 6 feet (2 m) in enclosed spaces, as microdroplets could potentially travel across an entire room. “Small particle aerosols may actually be as important to even more important than these large particle droplets in terms of transmitting the virus,” said Dr. Dean Winslow, infectious disease physician at Stanford Health Care, in an interview with Healthline.
Finally, the risk of contracting an airborne disease indoors is much higher than outdoors, and the epidemiology of the disease seems to support that Covid-19 is airborne, as major outbreaks have occurred in enclosed spaces like football stadiums and theaters. But what do all of these findings and information mean for the everyday person? Stricter self-protection guidelines, to be short.
How to Protect Yourself from Airborne Disease
Having learned about the potential of the airborne spread of Covid-19, you may ask yourself, "How can I use this information to protect myself and others?" Well, for one, all the previous recommendations, such as hand-washing, the disinfection of surfaces, and social distancing are still valid. In addition, we list pieces of practical advice that will help you prevent the spread of the novel coronavirus in light of the information we featured above:
- The importance of mask-wearing is increased. Wearing face masks has been common for months now, but it is even more important now that we know the virus is airborne, especially indoors, as microdroplets are a lot less likely to spread through a well-fitted filter, i.e. the face mask, for your own and public protection. You must remember to wear the mask properly, covering both your mouth and nose and you must make sure the mask is well-fitting and air doesn't get in and out from the sides.
- It's safer to spend time outdoors than indoors. Spending time at supermarkets, shopping malls and other indoor public spaces is much riskier now, as microdroplets containing the virus can linger in the air for hours. Shop or attend to errands as quickly as you can, which will minimize your exposure to the virus particles. Opt for outdoor markets, cafes, and restaurants with open terraces instead, because the particles will not survive as long outdoors.
- Limiting the number of people indoors is crucial. Avoid crowded indoor spaces like bookstores, bars, and the like. Businesses and public transportation may also start limiting the number of people indoors even more.
- Indoor spaces must be well-ventilated. A constant flow of air indoors is even more crucial now than it was before we knew that the virus is airborne. Ventilation will help the microdroplets dissipate more quickly, and both businesses and places of work ought to ensure optimal ventilation indoors to prevent the spread of the virus to people.
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