You're More Likely to Get COVID Through the Air Than This Way, Doctor Says
This method of coronavirus infection is less likely to occur than air transmission.
The United States only had 14 confirmed coronavirus cases by late February. Now, just six months later, there are over 4.3 million confirmed cases. This rise in case numbers can be attributed to how easily the virus spreads. As we have learned since COVID emerged, there are multiple ways it can be transmitted, with varying risks involved. Experts now say that airborne transmission is one of the biggest forms of spread. In fact, you're more likely to get COVID through the air than from another commonly citied source of transmission, touching contaminated surfaces.
"Fomites are generated when infectious respiratory secretions are expelled and land on a hard surface," H. Cody Meissner, MD, of Tufts Medical Center in Boston, wrote in a column for AAP News. "The precise role of fomites in transmission of SARS-CoV-2 is not clear but appears to be less important than aerosol transmission."
According to Meissner, when these fomites are transferred from the hard surface they live on, like a doorknob or keyboard, they can cause autoinoculation, which is where "contaminated secretions from such surfaces are transferred to the ocular, nasal, or oral mucosa of a susceptible person." However, this is less likely to occur than direct airborne transmission.
Airborne transmission, on the other hand, is where an infected person expels secretions from their upper or lower respiratory tract that contain multiple droplet particles. These particles spread in various directions when the sick person is engaging in any aerosol-generating activity, like talking, coughing, or sneezing.
"Respiratory droplets greater than five microns in diameter are recognized to be the major mode of transmission of SARS-CoV-2 and are unlikely to travel more than 3 to 6 feet," Meissner writes. "They are likely to settle rapidly due to gravitational pull within a 6-foot radius of the index person."
This is why social distancing and face coverings have become such important preventative measures in reducing the spread of COVID-19. Based on what we now know about how the virus is most likely to infect you, Meissner explains that anyone who is not wearing personal protective equipment and standing at least six feet away from an infected person is at high risk for infection.
However, Meissner's is not the first to say contaminated surfaces are a less likely form of transmission. In May, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) released a report indicating that coronavirus spread was primarily the result of person-to-person contact, noting that "the virus does not spread easily from touching surfaces or objects." And for more on how the coronavirus spreads, There's Now Proof These Two Things You Do Constantly Spread COVID.