Coronavirus Can Stay In The Air Of Crowded Spaces, New Study Reveals

Chinese commuters wear protective masks as they crowd on an escalator and stairs after getting off the subway during rush hour on April 15, 2020 in Beijing, China.
Kevin Frayer / Getty Images

There’s still much that scientists don’t know about the novel coronavirus, but new studies are beginning to shed some light on the mysterious virus. One new study has some decidedly unwelcome news.

According to Bloomberg News, a report from China reveals that the virus can continue to linger in the air of crowded spaces.

Researchers from Wuhan University, led by Ke Lan, set up “aerosol traps” to determine where the genetic material of COVID-19 tends to congregate. They found that it was present in particularly high concentrations in the air in hospital rooms where medical workers were removing protective gear.

It was also found in high concentrations in hospital toilets, supermarkets, and residential buildings where people tend to congregate.

The findings indicate that though they aren’t certain if people can get sick from the floating genetic material, it’s important to ventilate rooms, to limit crowds, and to clean areas well. It also supports the idea that the disease may be spreading through airborne particles.

“People produce two types of droplets when they breathe, cough or talk. Larger ones drop to the ground before they evaporate, causing contamination mostly via the objects on which they settle. Smaller ones — those that make up aerosols — can hang in the air for hours,” Bloomberg reports.

The World Health Organization has concluded at this point that the virus is primarily transmitted through contact and respiratory droplets, not aerosols.

“Droplet transmission occurs when a person is in in close contact (within 1 m) with someone who has respiratory symptoms (e.g., coughing or sneezing) and is therefore at risk of having his/her mucosae (mouth and nose) or conjunctiva (eyes) exposed to potentially infective respiratory droplets,” the WHO concluded.

The WHO says it reviewed 75,000 cases in China and didn’t find any reports of airborne transmission. However, scientists say that it’s still unclear how the virus moves from person to person.

Another recent study indicated that the nasal passages are the most viral entry points for COVID-19. Scientists looked at samples from the lungs, nasal cavities, eyes, gut, and kidney, and they found the highest concentration in the nose.

Both findings seem to bolster the idea that people should continue to wear masks in accordance with the recommendations from the federal government. People should also continue to follow guidelines to avoid touching their faces.

So far, the novel coronavirus has killed over 207,000 people, with nearly 3 million confirmed cases of the disease across the planet. In the U.S. over 99,300 people have contracted the virus.