COVID-19 May Spread Further Than Initially Thought

ByMarc Silberberg


This morning I turned on the news anticipating hearing something bad, and of course there it was “CDC says that coronavirus may spread more than six feet via airborne particles”. This means that in situations like singing, sneezing, talks, or even breathing, infected particles can remain in the air for extended periods of time and travel beyond six feet. This is different then the initial distancing parameter of the CDC and the WHO that coronavirus spread is limited to a six foot radius. Later in the day I received a Tweet from Breaking911 that the CDC had accidently posted the information and is in the process of updating its recommendation. 

At this point no one knows who to trust. When we have a major government agency claiming a publishing error it sends the public a message of lack of clarity. This uncertainty leads the public to make their own social distancing decisions which can often lead to further spread of the virus. Hopefully by the time you’re reading this article things will be a bit more clear. 

Many major retailers like Walmart and Target will have to rethink how they keep people apart while shopping indoors. What we do know is that wearing a mask when indoors is pretty much your only protection against infected airborne particles. More importantly it will not allow these respiratory aerosols to escape from one who is infected with the virus. 

I honestly do not think anyone is surprised with this new revelation from the CDC. It might have given us some physiological comfort knowing that if you’re more than six feet away the risk for infection is less, but deep down we knew the liability to exposure still existed. Unfortunately, where I live in New Jersey there has been a spike in coronavirus cases being attributed to large gatherings late in the summer. When the coronavirus goes airborne it can naturally travel further due to lack of gravity. For example, a sneeze brings up a mixture of salvia, mucus, and oxygen. As we breathe in prior to sneeze, we supply energy for the potentially infected particles to take flight. The respiratory aerosol takes the shape of a small light bubble and will travel until it finds somewhere or someone to land on and hopefully that’s not you. Keeping your face covered and washing your hands has never been so important especially when indoors.

What Is The Difference Between Droplets & Aerosols?  

When we are talking about the spread of the coronavirus it’s important that we understand how it can spread. By now we all know that COVID-19 is transmitted from human to human (true there have been cases with pets but we are addressing the overwhelming majority of cases). The virus can spread via droplets from the infected party which in most cases fall to the ground. What’s unique about what the CDC just recently published was the element of aerosols which remain airborne well after leaving someone who has the virus. 

How Long Can Coronavirus Aerosols Remain In The Air?

Jose-Luis Jimenez, is chemistry professor at the University of Colorado Boulder who addressed the issue of COVID-19 spreading beyond six feet back in early August.  In the interview conducted by CPR (Colorado Public Radio), Jose-Luis Jimenez said the following, “Aerosols come out at the same time as droplets that are smaller, but they are still big enough to contain the virus. These aerosols will linger in the air because they are smaller and gravity cannot simply pull them to the ground. They may then stay in the air for ten minutes, one hour, or a couple of hours”.

Scientists have known this for a while, now we must wait for the CDC to become more definitive in regards to actual data. In order to give proper guidance to the common folk, data must be confirmed. Keep in mind that when a government agency makes a statement like that it has a ripple effect on how we handle people to people interaction. If the more than six feet distance recommendation is indeed made official ( and we do not know this at this time)this might mean that restaurants might need to revert back to outdoor dining or have dividing partitions for its patrons. This denied data comes right at the time where outdoor dining is supposed to resume.

Making Sure Your Indoor Environment Has Proper Ventilation

According to the CDC, being indoors without good ventilation increases the risk for infection due to the coronavirus particles floating around the room for longer periods of time. Any indoor establishment that plays host to large groups of people must get a ventilation check on their heating and cooling system. Having the air circulating properly will not allow the infected particles in the form of aerosols to stay in the congregated area. Though we are not guaranteed that COVID-19 particles will not reenter the airspace, the risk of infection diminishes greatly.

What Is Proper Air Ventilation?

Assuming that your home or workspace is air conditioned this is the first place where we begin to assess proper ventilation. One might think that since the room has a window unit there is proper air ventilation. However, that is not always the case. In order for a room to be properly ventilated it must meet a certain number of air changes per hour. The ACPH or ACH is the Cubic Feet per Minute (CFM) divided by the volume of the room. In an online publication by Yale University on COVID-19 Safety Guidelines for Specific School Spaces, they suggest that schools should target to have 6 to 10 air changes per an hour. Each industry has a certain ACPH which they should target. If you manage a facility and are unsure if you are meeting the targeted ACPH, get a duct leakage test to determine the air changes per an hour of the conditioned space. 

What Causes Poor Air Ventilation?  

There are many factors that can contribute to poor air ventilation with the primary reason being poor air circulation. Circulation and ventilation sound quite similar but they are indeed very different. Air ventilation means that outside air comes indoors (a ventilator brings outside oxygen into a person’s lungs which allows them to breathe) while air circulation refers to how the air gets around the conditioned air space. When a room or area has poor circulation the quality of air can sometimes have a stale smell and worst off trap unwanted bacteria. When the air vents from the living space work  properly, this allows new fresh air to replace the old unwanted air. The process is repeated consistently, keeping the quality of air healthy for all to breathe. With COVID-19 rampant it is vital to have proper air ventilation, which keeps the risk low for infectious particles to stay airborne indoors.

Clogged Air Ducts Will Impact The HVAC Performance

The basic function of a heating and cooling system is to suck up the air and push the newly conditioned air into the home until the desired temperature is reached. When your ductwork plays host to dirt and dust this can impact the push and suction generated from the HVAC system. This might impact the air changes per an hour of ACH. Since the system is not moving the air due to unclean air ducts this will reduce its overall performance. If you suspect that your system is not running efficiently you might want to get an estimate from a local air duct cleaning specialist

Hospitals and Healthcare Facilities Ventilation

Hospitals and healthcare facilities use an entirely different ventilation system. In a document dated back to 2017 by ASHRAE, it shows that each room has its own ACH rate. It appears that no one number is good for the whole facility. For example, a patient’s room must have a minimum ACH of 4 while an MRI procedure will be required to have a minimum ACH of 15. Besides varying ACH rates the ventilation system works entirely differently and uses negative air pressure to limit the stationary air. This helps prevent airborne diseases like COVID-19 from staying afloat and reduces the risk for infection at these facilities. Proper ventilations in healthcare facilities is vital for the many patients whose health is compromised to keep them protected.

Final Words

True we don’t really know how far coronavirus can spread but since we are unsure we must take a more stringent approach to rid this plague from our midst. This is not something we can guess but rather we have to assume that it will spread beyond six feet until the risk of COVID-19 is nil. At the same time we must keep those masks on not to allow droplets or aerosols to gain flight. We will get over this, but until then keep your mask and sanitize your hands. Even with a coronavirus vaccine it’s going to take some time until we can congregate normally again. I know it’s hard but sit tight and before you know if COVID-19 will be part of our history and in our rear view mirror. 

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