Can Coronavirus Spread Through Air?

Can Coronavirus spread through the air? That’s an important question, along with finding a reliable COVID-19 antibody test to confirm. Let’s begin with a question of how far does a sneeze or cough travel? 

Researchers ask the question, can coronavirus spread through the air?

An article published in the Journal of the American Medical Association on March 26, 2020 talks about turbulent gas. This article was written by Dr Lydia Bourouiba, PhD, professor at Massachusetts Institute of Technology. She describes exhalations (breathing out), sneezes and coughs as a cloud of air (turbulent gas) which contains droplets of all sizes. Depending on the sneezing/coughing/talking person and the environmental humidity and temperature,“pathogen-bearing (disease-causing) droplets of all sizes can travel 23-27 feet.” Coughs can travel through turbulent air 16-19 feet. Some droplets can hover in the cloud of air depending on the environmental conditions for a while before landing. ScienceFocus.com says droplets can stay suspended for up to 10 minutes.  As droplets fall onto surfaces and dry, they can contaminate the next shopper’s hands as she grabs that shopping cart without a disinfectant wipe-down. An April 5, 2020 demonstration video can be seen at USA Today if you want to see a sneeze in action. Dr Bourouiba goes on to say no studies have been done on the COVID-19 virus, but the respiratory transmission of this virus is probably similar to prior coronaviruses such as (severe acute respiratory syndrome coronavirus (SARS) which caused illness in 2003. 

Researchers say yes to the question, can coronavirus spread through the air?

So based on this research we can answer our question, can Coronavirus spread through the air? Yes at least in theory, droplets from a sneeze, cough or even talking can spread the virus through the air. No one knows if a sneeze, cough or talking has spread COVID-19 because there is much we do not know about COVID-19. But this research explains the need for ‘social distancing.’ Not that we have been asked to stay 27 feet apart. That would be almost impossible. But the Centers for Disease Prevention and Control (CDC) does recommend six feet social distancing

And yet, as the country reopens after the pandemic lockdown, parking lots and stores are full of bored shoppers ready to leave their homes. And we understand, people are bored and ready to return to their lives. However, there’s a reason to practice caution for at least a few more weeks. Many people feel the month of May and reopening businesses around the country will give us clues of whether the pandemic is slowing or not. Because the federal social distancing guidelines expired on April 29, some people may interpret this to mean the pandemic is over. We all hope it is. However, at 8 am EDT Tuesday May 5, the unofficial U.S. tally was up 23,000 COVID-19 cases with 1250 deaths compared to the day before. 

So, some states have issued social distancing guidelines; some have not. Some people follow the guidelines; some do not. Does this mean we should return to pre-pandemic behaviors? Have we forgotten our question, can the coronavirus spread through the air? That’s the reason for social distancing, wearing masks and washing our hands properly and often to protect ourselves and our loved ones. Remember from blog #1 What is a coronavirus? We talked about the fact that a virus cannot make us sick until it enters our bodies, hijacks our cellular activity and starts reproducing itself. (See blog #1 for more information.)

Here are the facts: this new COVID-19 virus is still not fully understood, testing has been inadequate so we still do not know who has and has not been infected with the COVID-19 virus, especially since 80% of people have mild cases and recover. Physicians and scientists all over the world are trying to identify the best treatments and hopefully a vaccine.  Another fact is that the COVID-19 virus can make some people really sick.

Protecting our elder loved ones 

When you consider all these factors, think of your loved ones and protect your family. Early in the pandemic, physicians identified older people with chronic conditions and those who are immune-suppressed at highest risk for the pandemic. That still holds true. The CDC still lists these risk factors: lung problems such as asthma and chronic obstructive pulmonary disease (COPD) also known as emphysema/chronic bronchitis. Other chronic conditions which increase a person’s risk includes diabetes, heart disease, chronic kidney disease, liver disease, obesity, immuno-suppression (think auto-immune diseases and those taking immunosuppressive medicines). Also people over age 65, and those in long-term care facilities are at risk for COVID-19. How much of the American population fits into those at-risk groups?  

Protecting our young healthy loved ones 

However, there have been cases of young healthy people becoming ill with COVID-19. According to LiveScience.com, scientists are researching why some young healthy people are so sick and dying from COVID-19. Several research projects including the COVID-19 Host Genetics Initiative are analyzing whether a person’s genes are involved with the severe cases experienced by some people. Hopefully we will have answers to this question soon. 

Protecting our children

Most children who have become ill with the COVID-19 illness have experienced mild cases with respiratory symptoms which includes fever, runny nose and cough. Gastrointestinal symptoms include diarrhea and vomiting can occur. So while most COVID-19 infected children recover quickly and easily, some children are becoming very ill with symptoms of the Kawasaki disease. This treatable, but serious inflammatory illness can follow influenza and other viral infections, including COVID-19. The CDC gives suggested tips on protecting your children during the COVID-19 outbreak here

The adults in each family group make decisions which affect their loved ones. 

So each adult and family will make their own decision about their actions. As you make your decisions, please remember that COVID-19 virus spreads, at least in theory, through the air. Please act prudently to protect yourself and your loved ones. Social distancing, wearing a mask and washing your hands often help protect you and your loved ones from COVID-19. 

Because the COVID-19 is a new virus, there is much that medical experts still do not know. They have used the knowledge about the SAR-S and MERS viruses as a beginning point of understanding this illness. Reports from healthcare professionals caring for patients and scientific studies are being conducted in an effort to verify what the COVID-19 virus does and does not do. Reputable medical websites such as CDC, WebMD, and Cleveland Clinic provide trustworthy and up-to-date information about COVID-19. We recommend that people use reputable websites rather than internet gossip when dealing with their health, including the COVID-19 pandemic.