This Is How One Person Gave Coronavirus to 70 People She Never Met

It's not just parties and large group gatherings putting others at risk.

There are many activities that likely come to mind when you think of what could put you at risk for coronavirus: shopping in a crowded mall, eating a meal at a busy restaurant, or attending a gathering with friends or family, just to name a few. However, there's one activity many people do on a daily basis that could be putting them in harm's way without them even realizing it: riding an elevator.

According to a CDC case study slated for publication in the September 2020 issue of Emerging Infectious Diseases, one woman based in China's Heilongjiang Province managed to infect up to 71 other people through the use of the elevator in her building.

Through contact tracing, researchers were able to establish that the woman who caused the chain reaction in her community used a communal elevator, although not at the same time as some of the neighbors she spread the virus to—instead, researchers believe coronavirus may have been spread via contact with high-touch surfaces in the elevator. Once infected, her neighbors spread the virus to friends, family members, and other individuals with whom they had contact, with as many as 71 people infected in total.

woman's hand pressing elevator button

While the breadth of coronavirus transmission associated with this particular individual is surprising on its own, there's yet another notable factor about this case: the initial coronavirus spreader was asymptomatic, contradicting information about asymptomatic spread issued by the World Health Organization (WHO) in June.

So, how should you behave in an elevator to limit your risk of catching coronavirus or spreading it to others?

According to Joseph Allen, MPH, an assistant professor of exposure assessment science at the Harvard T.H. Chan School of Public Health, wearing a mask during elevator rides is critical for all passengers. Allen also recommends using a "checkerboard pattern" of physical arrangement in the elevator—meaning there's a person-sized space between each passenger—and having one person on the elevator press the buttons for everyone aboard, using their knuckles instead of their fingertips. Similar to the coronavirus-mitigating technique adopted by many stores, Allen also suggests having everyone in the elevator face the same direction. And to the delight of many introverts, Allen says that talking while aboard the elevator is an absolute no-no.

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While Allen admits that riding an elevator amid the coronavirus pandemic can be a nerve-wracking experience, that doesn't mean contracting the virus is a foregone conclusion. "We have to remember that our overall exposure and risk is a function of three things: intensity, frequency, and duration," says Allen, noting that with proper precautions, all three can be kept to acceptably low levels as you make your way up or down. And if you want to keep yourself safe during the pandemic, discover The One Thing You Should Do to Lower Your COVID Risk Right Now.

Sarah Crow
Sarah Crow is a senior editor at Eat This, Not That!, where she focuses on celebrity news and health coverage. Read more
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