If We All Do This "The Pandemic Would Probably Die Off," Scientist Says

Doing this while wearing your mask will make it even more effective at stopping COVID.

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You already wear your mask and practice social distancing while in public. But have you wondered if there is even more you can do to reduce your chances of spreading the coronavirus when you leave the house? Well, according to one expert, there is: talk less—or at least less loudly.

"Every route of viral transmission would go down if we talked less, or talked less loudly, in public spaces," Jose L. Jimenez, PhD, a professor at the University of Colorado at Boulder who studies disease transmission, recently told The Atlantic. "This is just a very clear fact. It's not controversial."

When you think about it, it makes perfect sense. We know that COVID-19 is spread primarily through respiratory droplets expelled into the air when an infected individual sneezes or coughs. Even singing—particularly in church choirs, according to one CDC study—has been called out as a potentially high risk activity due to the likelihood of these viral droplets being expelled when a person opens their mouth wide and projects their voice to belt out a tune. So why wouldn't the same go for speaking? And the answer is, it probably does—especially when it comes to talking loudly, yelling, or speaking in a manner than is more pronounced than your average talking voice or whisper.

Young people using phones and wearing masks
Shutterstock/Boonker

In an analysis of recent social distancing research published in BMJ on Aug. 25, talking quietly or being silent were both associated with a lower risk level of COVID transmission in a variety of settings—both indoors and outdoors—where group activities took place. While other factors were at play, including occupancy level, length of contact, and whether or not masks were being used during the interaction, in no scenario did the study find that shouting put people at a lower risk of virus transmission than those who either spoke in a normal volume or stayed silent in the same situation. In fact, more often than not, shouting was found to heighten the risk of virus transmission when compared to silence or using a normal speaking voice.

"The truth is that if everybody stopped talking for a month or two, the pandemic would probably die off," Jimenez told The Atlantic, adding that compared with yelling or shouting, speaking quietly reduces viral aerosols by about five times, while being completely silent reduces them by about 50 times. And Donald K. Milton, PhD, a professor at the University of Maryland School of Public Health, told the magazine that "silence and quiet speaking are reasonable means of intervening" when it comes to lowering the risk of coronavirus transmission.

Of course neither expert says this is to suggest masks are no longer needed. In fact, quite the opposite. It is the combination of limiting how often and how loud you talk when around others and wearing a mask that would really make the most impact. However, Jiminez, isn't overly confident about getting people to quiet down.

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"What we've learned from the mask experience is that many Americans don't like being told what to do if they don't understand why it's necessary," Jiminez said. "People need to understand that this virus is in the air, and that they breathe out 10 times more virus when they are shouting or speaking loudly." And for more on proper face covering practices, check out The One Situation You're Not Wearing Your Mask, But You Should Be.

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