These 3 Key Words Can Help You Avoid Catching COVID, Expert Says

By remembering these words, you can easily avoid situations where you're most likely to contract COVID-19.

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Early on in the coronavirus pandemic, we were very focused on disinfecting everything to avoid catching COVID—but we've learned a lot about the virus since then. For one thing, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) now believes there's little risk in contracting coronavirus from surfaces. For another, experts have come to understand that coronavirus is airborne, which means we should be concentrating on ventilation. In fact, remembering three words could be the key to avoiding situations where you're most likely to contract COVID: venue, ventilation, and vocalization.

Speaking to The Atlantic, infectious disease epidemiologist Saskia Popescu, PhD, stressed the importance of focusing on super-spreader events (SSEs) rather than people who might be called superspreaders. It has been previously reported that 97 percent of SSEs take place indoors, but not all indoor spaces are created equal. This is where the three V's come in—venues with poor ventilation and excessive vocalization from the crowd are more likely to lead to a coronavirus outbreak.

"Most super-spreader events occur at an indoor venue, especially a poorly ventilated one (meaning air is not being exchanged, diluted, or filtered), where lots of people are talking, chanting, or singing," The Atlantic reports. "Some examples of where super-spreader events have taken place are restaurants, bars, clubs, choir practices, weddings, funerals, cruise ships, nursing homes, prisons, and meatpacking plants."

man talking closely to a woman at a bar holding a drink
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Remembering the three V's is another easy way to decide which events are safe enough to take part in, and which should be avoided. The CDC previously suggested a similar mnemonic device, the three C's, as a way to assess the risk of COVID infection in any given situation: closed spaces with poor ventilation, crowded places, and close-contact settings.

The key addition of the three V's is "vocalization." Multiple studies have shown that coronavirus is transmitted via droplets that infected people emit when speaking or even breathing. But speaking loudly and singing can spread even more droplets, which then have the capacity to linger in the air, particularly in indoor spaces with inadequate ventilation. That's why bars and churches have proven equally high-risk: Shouting over loud music or singing in a choir are both intense vocalizations.

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With that in mind, focusing on ventilation may be one of the best paths forward toward slowing the spread of coronavirus. Paraphrasing Virginia Tech professor Linsey Marr, PhD, The Atlantic notes, "if aerosols are crucial, we should focus as much on ventilation as we do on distancing, masks, and hand-washing, which every expert agrees are important."

In an op-ed for The New York Times, Marr explained some ways to improve ventilation: "Open windows and doors. Adjust dampers in air-conditioning and heating systems. Upgrade the filters in those systems. Add portable air cleaners, or install germicidal ultraviolet technologies to remove or kill virus particles in the air."

These are just some of the things businesses, schools, and even you at home can do to improve ventilation and thus greatly decrease the risk of COVID spread. But in the meantime, the three V's can at least help you decide what places and activities you can safely visit and take part in—and hopefully allow you to avoid getting sick in the process. And for more coronavirus risks, You're Twice as Likely to Catch COVID If You're This Height, Research Says.

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