- Most coronavirus infections occur when someone is standing within six feet of someone who has COVID-19.
- Indoor gatherings, even when people are socially distanced, remain risky because droplets linger in the air longer when there’s poor ventilation.
- The vaccination effort in the US needs to ramp up in order to combat the spread of a more contagious and resilient COVID strain from South Africa.
A lot of what we know, or thought we knew, about the coronavirus has changed over the past few months. Of course, this is to be expected given that health experts and researchers were initially flummoxed by how the coronavirus manifested in patients and how it managed to spread so quickly.
Now that we’re almost a year into the pandemic, health experts have a much firmer view of how the coronavirus spreads and, in turn, what can be done to reduce the probability of transmission. Suffice it to say, endlessly washing your countertops and disinfecting your home, while important, doesn’t address how most people likely came into contact with COVID-19.
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According to the CDC, COVID-19 spreads most readily when a COVID-19 positive person stands in close proximity to another person. And seeing as how transmission typically occurs via respiratory droplets, common activities like laughing, talking, or even heavy breathing can increase the likelihood of transmission. Indeed, heavy breathing is precisely why an activity like going to the gym can be especially risky.
The CDC below details how COVID-19 typically spreads between two people:
- People who are physically near (within 6 feet) a person with COVID-19 or have direct contact with that person are at greatest risk of infection.
- When people with COVID-19 cough, sneeze, sing, talk, or breathe they produce respiratory droplets. These droplets can range in size from larger droplets (some of which are visible) to smaller droplets. Small droplets can also form particles when they dry very quickly in the airstream.
- Infections occur mainly through exposure to respiratory droplets when a person is in close contact with someone who has COVID-19.
- Respiratory droplets cause infection when they are inhaled or deposited on mucous membranes, such as those that line the inside of the nose and mouth.
- As the respiratory droplets travel further from the person with COVID-19, the concentration of these droplets decreases. Larger droplets fall out of the air due to gravity. Smaller droplets and particles spread apart in the air.
Incidentally, one of the reasons why a COVID-19 infection is more likely in the winter is because droplets tend to linger in the air longer in colder and drier air environments.
The CDC adds that airborne transmission of COVID-19 is a risk for transmission even when people adhere to social distancing guidelines. While less common than direct person-to-person transmission, the CDC writes that these transmissions typically happen in enclosed spaces with subpar ventilation.
Under these circumstances, scientists believe that the amount of infectious smaller droplet and particles produced by the people with COVID-19 became concentrated enough to spread the virus to other people. The people who were infected were in the same space during the same time or shortly after the person with COVID-19 had left.
Indeed, this is why indoor gatherings are especially risky, even if people remain socially distanced. To date, the US has seen 26.4 million coronavirus infections and 446,643 COVID-related deaths.