Here's How Long Coronavirus Germs Stay in the Air Just From Talking
You chat with other people every day—but talking could be keeping the COVID-19 pandemic going.
While many people know that COVID-19 can be spread through respiratory droplets that land on surfaces following a cough or sneeze, new research suggests that an activity most of us participate in on a daily basis could be contributing to new infections. According to a recent study, talking spreads coronavirus.
The study, published on May 13 in the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences of the United States of America, reveals that the act speaking can transmit COVID-19. So, just how much of a risk does talking really present?
The study's researchers discovered that speaking in a loud voice can introduce thousands of fluid droplets containing viral material into the air every second. Scarier yet, these droplets are still detectable in the air for up to 14 minutes in an environment with stagnant air, leading the study's researchers to report that "there is a substantial probability that normal speaking causes airborne virus transmission in confined environments."
This is particularly troubling because many people infected with coronavirus are asymptomatic carriers, meaning a normal conversation in close quarters with another person could easily cause the virus to spread. While the exact number of asymptomatic carriers has yet to be determined, reports suggest the numbers may be disturbingly high. A March study of passengers on the Diamond Princess cruise ship published in Eurosurveillance found that 17.9 percent of individuals with coronavirus aboard the ship were asymptomatic, while a small April study of pregnant women published in The New England Journal of Medicine revealed that 87.9 of the women who tested positive for coronavirus were asymptomatic at the time of testing.
While these numbers may make it seem as though contracting coronavirus is a foregone conclusion, there are ways to mitigate the risk from talking. In an April review of 31 studies issued for preprint in medRxiv, researchers found that wearing masks did provide some measure of protection if both sick and well people wore them. In fact, one of the included studies found that, among a group of housemates with a sick member, all of whom wore masks, the rate of viral transmission was reduced by up to 19 percent.
So don't be afraid keep conversations flowing when you're able to start seeing friends and family members again—just keep those hands washed, those masks on, and maintain some physical distance for the time being. And before you resume your usual activities, make sure you know these 9 Mistakes You Shouldn't Make During Reopening.