The No. 1 Worst Thing You Can Do When Talking to Someone
Now that we know coronavirus spreads through the air, here's how you should be talking to people.
The coronavirus outbreak has us rethinking the way we do nearly everything, including the manner in which we talk to people. We now know that a simple face-to-face conversation can be a dangerously easy way to spread the virus, "given that a person might expel 200 viral particles a minute through speech," The New York Times reports. So what's the worst thing you can do when you're talking to someone? Stand directly in front of them, according to Seema Lakdawala, PhD, a flu transmission researcher at the University of Pittsburgh.
When talking face to face with someone, you're putting yourself in the direct line of the plumes of breath that come out of that person's mouth when they speak. As a result, Lakdawala tells NPR, it's best to turn away from people when you talk to them to avoid contracting or transmitting the coronavirus. "If there's any scenario where I'm face to face, with someone, I move my head off-center so I'm no longer inhaling that direct plume," she says.
To remember to do that, Lakdawala says to avoid making direct eye contact with people, which can admittedly be awkward. But, she explains, "It's not just about protecting myself, but also about protecting other people."
Though there's long been debate about the topic, medical and public health researchers now understand that COVID-19 can spread via aerosolized droplets. These tiny droplets spread when someone coughs, sneezes, or even talks loudly or sings, which is why there are a number of COVID outbreaks linked to places like choir practices and loud bars.
A May study published in the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences of the United States of America reveals that the mere act of talking can transmit thousands of COVID-19 droplets into the air every second. And worse, those droplets are still detectable in the air for up to 14 minutes after the conversation has ended.
So it stands to reason that, if you find yourself talking face to face with someone, it is best to look away to make sure the person with whom you are chatting is not directly in front of your mouth and you're not directly in front of theirs, either.
Of course, you should also be wearing a face covering during any in-person interactions with people outside of your household, maintaining six feet of distance, and keeping conversations outdoors and under 15 minutes, as much as possible. That's because, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), if you've been within six feet of an infected person for at least 15 minutes, starting from 48 hours before the infected person began feeling sick, you are considered to have been in close contact with the virus. And for more on this, check out 3 Easy Ways to Know If You've Been Exposed to Coronavirus.