Does 6 Feet Provide Enough COVID Protection?

TUESDAY, May 19, 2020 (HealthDay News) -- Saliva droplets expelled by coughs can travel much farther than 6 feet in light winds, according to new findings.

That suggests social distancing spaces of 6 feet may not be enough to prevent coronavirus transmission.

Airborne transmission of viruses, including the coronavirus that causes COVID-19, isn't well-understood. One way to learn more is to study how saliva particles travel through the air when people cough, explained researchers at the University of Nicosia in Cypress.

"This work is vital, because it concerns health and safety distance guidelines, advances the understanding of spreading and transmission of airborne diseases, and helps form precautionary measures based on scientific results," said researcher Dimitris Drikakis, vice president for global partnerships at the university.

Many factors affect how saliva droplets travel through the air, including their size and number, their interaction with one another and the surrounding air as they disperse and evaporate, and the humidity and temperature of the air, the researchers noted.

Such factors were taken into account when researchers created a computer simulation to assess how saliva moves through the air after a person coughs.

The simulation found that even with a slight breeze of 4 kilometers per hour (2.5 miles per hour), saliva travels 18 feet in five seconds, according to the study in the journal Physics of Fluids.

"The droplet cloud will affect both adults and children of different heights," Drikakis said in a journal news release. "Shorter adults and children could be at higher risk if they are located within the trajectory of the traveling saliva droplets."

Further research is needed to determine how ground surface temperature affects airborne saliva. Also, airborne saliva should be assessed in indoor settings, where air conditioning has a significant impact on particle movement through air, the study authors said.

More information

The U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention has more on COVID-19.

SOURCE: Physics of Fluids, news release, May 19, 2020

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