Latest Developments: Airborne transmission

COVID-19 has the potential to spread a few different ways: use the table below to understand these types of transmission:

Type of TransmissionWhat is it?How does someone become infected?How likely is someone to become infected?Ways to reduce risk:
Airborne transmission occurs when very small respiratory particles produced through talking, sneezing, coughing, breathing, etc. get suspended in the air for longer periods of time. These particles can travel across longer distances compared to larger respiratory droplets.
Discussions about airborne transmission of COVID-19 have been ongoing amongst the scientific community. Scientific evidence is building to support that the virus may spread through airborne particles under specific circumstances. 
This route of transmission occurs most often in indoor and poorly ventilated environments where individuals are not wearing masks. Activity that increases the small particles getting into the air such as singing, shouting, coughing, or breathing hard during exercise can increase the chance of airborne transmission.
Airborne transmission has the potential to infect more people because the small, aerosolized viral particles can linger in the air longer (sometimes up to several hours), meaning more people could potentially breathe them in for long enough to cause an infection. 
Likely under certain circumstances:Indoor, poorly ventilated areas, where people are not wearing masks.
When particles are airborne being six feet away indoors may not be enough to keep you safe. 
Open a window
Everyone wears a mask
Take activities that increase particles outdoors if possible AND wear a mask
Avoid crowded indoor spaces
Avoid indoor spaces where people do not wear masks
Remember risk increases with longer exposure to the virus – reduce time in indoor spaces that may be unsafe  
Respiratory Droplets
The virus spreads mainly through large respiratory droplets, which are produced through talking, sneezing, coughing, breathing, etc.

These respiratory particles are much bigger than airborne particles, and so they usually fall to the ground quickly. 
The longer you are close to people the higher the chance of transmission. Risk is considered higher for people who have been within 6 feet of others for 15 minutes or more but transmission can occur even in shorter time periods if you are very close, without masks or near someone talking, sneezing, coughing, or singing..Likely:The virus is most commonly spread this way.Wear masks
Keep your distance from people outside your household
Space out as much as possible when around other people
Don’t panic if you walk within several feet of someone at a store or on a sidewalk – remember risk increases with longer durations. Just make sure you exit all unsafe situations as quickly as possible.
Contaminated objects or surfaces
Another way the virus spreads is through contact with contaminated surfaces or objects such as doorknobs, elevator buttons, and cell phones. It is hard to prove if someone got infected from a contaminated surface but scientists have found virus on surfaces in hospital rooms indicating this mode of transmission is less likely to occur, but is still possible. For a person to become infected through this route, they would need to touch a surface or object that has enough virus particles (usually from respiratory droplets) on it to cause an infection and then touch their eyes, nose, or mouth.
Less likely:The virus is less likely to spread this way.
Remember that dose from a surface is likely less than being in direct contact with someone infected. 
Avoid touching things like door handles, light switches, or other surfaces many other people may touch. 
Consider carrying a Q-tip to punch in the numbers on high touch credit card machines and dispose of it afterwards. 
Environment note: You can get ones that decompose to be friendly to the environment.
Carry hand sanitizer and sanitize your hands if you have been in public. 
Wash your hands as soon as you get home. 
Packaging from stores is thought to be very low risk, but if you are worried about packaging from a store – remember to never use disinfectant on food products. It is not safe. Wash with soap and water instead. 
Other body fluids
There is evidence that the virus that causes COVID-19 can be found in body fluids other than respiratory droplets, such as urine or feces. 
In fact testing wastewater for viruses is one way we can track the virus in the community. 
There have been no published reports of cases that have been caused by contact with an infected person’s urine or feces.Unlikely:There have been no documented cases through this route of transmission.Good hygiene practices are always important. 
Wash hands after using the restroom or  changing diapers. 
If you are cleaning bathrooms outside your household or when someone is sick at home, take extra precautions and wash your hands. 

What does airborne transmission mean for COVID-19 prevention guidance?

  • Preventative guidance may change as more scientific evidence is gathered about airborne transmission for COVID-19. However, the major ways to avoid this route of transmission are to:
  1. Wear cloth face coverings
  2. Avoid poorly ventilated, indoor spaces
  3. Reduce your time spent indoors with members who are not a part of your household

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