Coronavirus survives longer airborne and travels further in these public spaces — here’s where to be extra careful

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Coronavirus appears to linger longer in certain public spaces.

Some public spaces appear to be more hostile environments to the new coronavirus than others, according to a new study published in the journal Nature Research and carried out by a team of investigators, led by Ke Lan, professor and director of the State Key Laboratory of Virology at Wuhan University in the Chinese region where COVID-19, the disease caused by SARS-CoV-2, was first reported.

“While the transmission of SARS-CoV-2 via human respiratory droplets and direct contact is clear, the potential for aerosol transmission is poorly understood,” the researchers wrote. After setting up traps for small aerosols (airborne particles) in two hospitals in Wuhan, the researchers found more coronavirus aerosols in patients’ bathrooms and in changing rooms for doctors.

There were, however, fewer aerosols in isolation wards and patient rooms with good ventilation and thorough sanitization, the study, published Monday, found. “Our results indicate that room ventilation, open space, sanitisation of protective apparel, and proper use and disinfection of toilet areas can effectively limit the concentration of SARS-CoV-2 RNA in aerosols,” they wrote.

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Airborne transmission of COVID-19 is “plausible,” according to a study published in the print edition in the peer-reviewed The New England Journal of Medicine last month from scientists at Princeton University, UCLA and the National Institutes of Health. The researchers concluded that the virus could remain airborne for “up to 3 hours post aerosolization.”

The scientists found that SARS-CoV-2, the virus that causes the new disease COVID-19, was detectable in the air for up to three hours, up to four hours on copper, up to 24 hours on cardboard, and up to two to three days on plastic and stainless steel. For those reasons, officials recommend washing hands, cleaning surfaces and “social distancing” in public spaces.

It’s recommended that you remain at least six feet apart from other people, especially indoors, experts say, and the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention recommends wearing masks or face coverings in public. “Studies have looked at how far spit and little droplets fly, and that’s the magic number,” said Luis Ostrosky, vice chairman of internal medicine at McGovern Medical School in Houston.

‘Most face masks do not effectively filter small particles from the air and don’t prevent leakage around the edge of the mask when the user inhales,’ the CDC says.

MarketWatch photo illustration/iStockphoto

The life span of the virus varies per surface

“It’s not certain how long the virus that causes coronavirus survives on surfaces, but it seems to behave like other coronaviruses,” the World Health Organization said. “Studies suggest that coronaviruses — including preliminary information on the COVID-19 virus — may persist on surfaces for a few hours or up to several days.”

Higher temperatures, based on what scientists know about earlier coronaviruses, are likely to degrade it. But experts caution that as spring arrives in the Northern Hemisphere — which usually marks the end of the traditional flu season — this novel coronavirus may not necessarily go away in warmer weather. It is from a different family of viruses than the flu, and it is highly contagious.

Its life span will also vary, depending on the type of surface, temperature and/or humidity. Bathrooms are a welcoming environment for coronaviruses. “Previous coronaviruses can remain viable in cold, moist surfaces up to nine days,” Ostrosky said. So if you are sharing a home with someone who has coronavirus, he strongly advises against sharing the same bathroom.

In-flight oxygen is likely of higher quality

As for plane travel, in-flight oxygen is likely of higher quality than the air in your home. “If you have an infected person in the front of the plane, and you’re in the back of the plane, your risk is close to zero simply because the area of exposure is thought to be roughly six feet from the infected person,” according to Charles Chiu, professor of laboratory medicine at University of California, San Francisco.

“Ventilation rates provide a total change of air 20 to 30 times per hour,” the WHO says. “Most modern aircraft have recirculation systems, which recycle up to 50% of cabin air. The recirculated air is usually passed through HEPA (high-efficiency particulate air) filters, of the type used in hospital operating theatres and intensive care units, which trap dust particles, bacteria, fungi and viruses.”

As of Monday, 5.4 million people had been tested in the U.S. for SARS-CoV-2. There were 972,969 confirmed cases, and 54,938 deaths, of which 17,280 were in New York City, the epicenter of the pandemic in the U.S. Worldwide, there were 3,002,303 confirmed cases and 208,131 deaths as of Monday. New York Gov. Andrew Cuomo said Monday that 337 people had died of the virus over the previous 24 hours, the lowest one-day total since the end of March.

How COVID-19 is transmitted

Originally Published on MarketWatch
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