We used to think that the coronavirus was spread via a cough or a sneeze when droplets would sail through the air and we’d inadvertently breathe them in via our mouths or our noses. Or they’d land somewhere remain viable and we’d touch that spot and then place our fingers on our faces where the virus would find a home in our eyes, alternately entering once again via our mouths or our nose. New research suggests that a mere exhalation can be a source of exposure which might explain why the virus is so easily infectious and so rapidly disseminated.
One study from the USA has shown that air samples collected outside patient rooms were positive for virus particles even when the patient had not coughed or sneezed at a distance greater than six feet. Air samples collected outside rooms housing asymptomatic patients were also positive. In another study conducted in two Hospitals in Wuhan virus was found in air samples sourced from toilets and areas where staff had removed their personal protective equipment. The researchers suggested that removing protective clothing or the cleaning of floors might reintroduce virus into the air or more possibly deposit it on inanimate objects which might unwittingly be touched. As a pinhead can harbor millions of virus particles it is not difficult to conceive how this might happen.
The American study suggests that infected air droplets can persist for up to two hours. Reassuringly it did indicate that health care workers were protected by wearing N95 masks as well as the implementation of other cleaning and disinfection practices.
But where does that leave us exposed in public spaces to the exhalations of those who might be unknowingly spreading the virus? This suggests that when we go out of our front doors wearing masks would significantly increase the safety of all of us. A public service video from the Czech Republic explains how this has been utilized to markedly reduce the contagion in that country. Although virus particles are infinitesimally small, wearing masks, the higher grade the better, might provide those of us who are on the receiving end with some protection.