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Keep Your Mask On: Reasons Why Experts Say COVID is Airborne

COVID viruses can transmit when an infected person speaks, laughs, or even just exhales.

Updated
COVID-19
2 min read
The risk from airborne spread of the virus can be mitigated if the necessary precautions are followed.
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A recent study published in the Lancet points to strong evidence that COVID-19 causing SARS-CoV-2 virus, which was thought to spread through droplets, is primarily an airborne pathogen.

This study brings us a step closer to understanding the virus, the way it spreads, and what can help prevent transmission.

The findings are also backed by another study, published on 14 April, that hopes to decimate misunderstandings surrounding the terminology such as “droplet,” “airborne,” and “droplet nuclei” transmission used interchangeably to define the virus and its characteristics.

What Do They Mean By 'Airborne Transmission'

What this means is that in the case of COVID, a person need not come directly in contact with 'large respiratory droplets' to get infected.

An individual could potentially be infected just by inhaling aerosols produced when an infected person exhales, speaks, shouts, sings, sneezes, or coughs.

On the other hand, since COVID doesn’t seem to spread through large droplets that fall quickly and settle on surfaces, incessantly cleaning surfaces, and physical barriers may not necessarily help reduce transmission.

The Lancet study also says that just maintaining physical distance at 'droplet distance' wouldn’t restrict transmission either.

Though the risk of transmission is far higher at close range, it can also occur over a distance.

“Second, long-range transmission of SARS-CoV-2 between people in adjacent rooms but never in each other’s presence has been documented in quarantine hotels.”
Lancet study authors

The study also found that around 59 percent of all transmission globally has spread from people who were neither coughing, not sneezing.

Moreover, just speaking produces thousands of aerosols that easily transmit through air.

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Transmission Risk is Higher Indoors

The study goes on to talk about how in the case of airborne infectious viruses, the following measures should be ensured to avoid inhalation of the infectious aerosols and effectively reduce transmission.

  • Proper ventilation indoors
  • Air filtration
  • Reducing crowding
  • Reducing time spent indoors
  • Use of masks when outdoors and indoors
  • Attention to mask quality and fit
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Most of the guidelines are the same as they've been from the beginning of the pandemic— mask up, social distance, wash hands.

The studies, however, emphasise ventilation as a crucial measure as the tiniest suspended particles can remain airborne for hours and can be cause infection if inhaled.

Don't Just Mask Up, Mask Smart

A second crucial they raise is the importance of the quality of the mask you use.

Masks usually block out large droplets from landing on your face, and do, to some extent, protect from inhalation of aerosols.

“However, both high filtration efficiency and a good fit are needed to enhance protection against aerosols because tiny airborne particles can find their way around any gaps between mask and face.”
BMJ study authors

Which is why it is crucial to make sure the mask you use is well-fitted and layered.

This can also explain why healthcare workers have been infected in spite of wearing surgical masks.

In light of these findings, the study authors call for higher-grade protection for healthcare staff and front-line workers.

(The article was first published on FIT.)

(The Quint is available on Telegram. For handpicked stories every day, subscribe to us on Telegram)

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