Persistent Unanswered Questions About Covid-19 to Consider Before You Open

Updated: Jun 8, 2020

One of the persistent questions about the Novel Coronavirus 19 or COVID-19 remains is the virus airborne? Can the virus be transmitted and a person become infected simply by breathing the air around them? We know that heavy droplets spray during a sneeze or a heavy cough. Can the virus pass from one person to another in the aerosol mist expelled by breathing or speaking?

We are encouraged to cover a sneeze or cough with tissue, a handkerchief, or the bend in our elbow. Each of these measures reduces the amount of potentially infectious material that we spray into the air around us. What can stop the potential infection from the aerosol mist produced in speaking or breathing?

We know how difficult it is to keep any area clean that people frequent. Therefore, we are strongly encouraged to undertake measures to prevent and mitigate the potential for infectious transmissions, such as:

  • Frequently washing your hands with soap and warm water for a minimum of 20-30 seconds,

  • using hand sanitizer that is at least 60% alcohol.

  • Wearing face coverings especially N95 masks

  • Regularly cleaning and disinfecting high touch and high traffic areas of our homes, churches, businesses and other places we frequent,

  • Social-distancing by remaining a minimum of 6 feet away from other people.

  • Self-isolating by staying at home and limiting your movement outside your home to essential visits to the store, pharmacy or doctor and

  • Wearing a mask or face-covering when in public spaces

All of these actions may slow the spread of the virus and flatten the curve of infection. We do these things because we want to keep the healthcare system from being overwhelmed with the number of hospitalizations and lowering its ability to provide adequate care for the sickest patients.

Each of these measures, while not cures are wise to do. Here are some of the reasons:

  • People may be “Presymptomatic,” meaning they are infected but have not yet shown any symptoms. It is during this period when a person may be highly infectious.

  • You may be “Asymptomatic” meaning you have the infection but don’t show any symptoms or very mild symptoms that may be mistaken for allergies or a cold. If you are Asymptomatic, you are highly infectious and may unwittingly spread the virus to others who may not survive the infection.

The persistent question about the airborne transmission of Covid-19 continues to defy a definite answer. Let’s review the concern. The medical experts believe that the primary means of infection is through:

  • Heavy droplets from coughing or sneezing within 6 feet of another person.

  • Contact with the infected droplets that land on surfaces or that are transported on a person’s hand to surfaces.

  • The surfaces that can be infected include tables, chairs, light switches, doorknobs, computer mouses, etc., that are then touched and transported by your hands when you contact your face.

There is, however, the concern that the virus can transmit through breathing or speaking because of the “Aerosol” transmission. While “Aerosol” transmission of the virus remains in question, there is evidence that the microscopic droplets of moisture that passes from your lungs through the act of breathing or speaking may carry the virus.

Consider the fact that in cold weather below 32 degrees (f) or 0 degrees (c), your breath condenses into a visible vapor. The same microscopic mist expels in warmer temperatures as an invisible aerosol. You can test this fact by placing your hand in front of your mouth and speaking. You feel the bursts of vapor forced from your lungs, in other words, the aerosol spray.

The amount of virus that the “Aerosol” can contain may or may not be enough to infect another person. The jury remains out on that possibility. One recent study suggested that the “Aerosol” may contain enough infectious material to merit study.

“While the current SARS-CoV-2 specific research is limited, the results of available studies are consistent with aerosolization of virus from normal breathing,” wrote Harvey Fineberg, MD, PhD, chair of the National Academies Standing Committee on Emerging Infectious Diseases and 21st Century Health Threats, in a rapid expert consultation issued April 2. [1]

The sheer newness of Covid-19 makes definite conclusions difficult to draw about aerosol infection. A study conducted on Influenza A arrived at the following conclusion when comparing infection material from coughing versus breathing.