- Japan's coronavirus transmission research says that the droplets that remain in the air after a cough or during a conversation can transmit the virus.
- Talking to someone in an environment where the air is not moving could increase the risk of getting COVID-19.
- More research is needed to test the scientists' empirical findings, as it is unclear how many microdrops would be enough to cause an infection.
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We should all wear masks to reduce the risk of COVID-19 transmission, the Chinese CDC CEO recently said in an interview. That is contrary to current guidelines in Europe and the US. The US states that only people who suspect they may be infected with the new coronavirus should wear masks in public.
At the same time, there is a shortage of masks and other protective equipment for health workers and first responders, so any available supplies should go to them. But new research in Japan shows that talking to an infected person without wearing a mask increases the risk of getting COVID-19.
NHK, Japan's national broadcasting organization, partnered with the Japan Infectious Diseases Association to record a video that analyzes droplet dispersal during coughs, sneezes, and regular conversations.
For months, he has been told to sneeze or cough into his elbow or handkerchief, or to wear a mask to prevent the spread of the disease. You have also been told to stay about six feet away from other people. The drops containing viral loads are not likely to reach you if you keep them far enough away from an infected person. Gravity will take care of them before they reach you.
You can still get infected by touching one of those droplets and then inadvertently touching your mouth, nose, or eyes. That is why you should wash your hands frequently and avoid touching your face.
As you will see in the video above, the president of the association, Kazuhiro Tateda, explains that when we speak, we also emit invisible micrometer particles. Microdroplets if you want. These tiny particles are smaller than cough drops, and gravity won't knock them down. As a result, they can stay in the air for a longer period of time and can be reached more easily, especially if not covered by protective gear.
To test the theory, NHK and a group of researchers used a highly sensitive camera and laser beams to record the behavior of the drops during a sneeze and during a regular conversation. The clip shows that large droplets fall to the ground after sneezing, while micro droplets persist in midair.
More interesting still, these droplets appear in the film even during conversation. They are so small that you cannot see them with the naked eye. Therefore, you will not realize the danger to which you could be exposed. The researchers have no idea how many microdroplets you would need to inhale to get COVID-19, but they can't rule out the risk of contracting the disease that way.
The researchers simulated what happens with a cough in a closed room and concluded that the droplets could persist in the air for up to 20 minutes. Everyone in that room would be exposed to them.
The video also shows that a simple solution like opening the window and creating an eraser would be enough to avoid micro-droplet stagnation. The video also demonstrates that social distancing is one of the best things you can do to minimize the risk of infection. This is why so many companies have closed their doors and why people are encouraged to work from home in many countries when possible.
However, the video indicates that you should consider wearing protective gear when going out, including masks and goggles. If this theory is correct, prolonged exposure to microdroplets in a supermarket might be enough to give you COVID-19.
The CDC still maintains its warning that masks are not required in public unless you are sick. And they are probably right. There really is no point in accumulating face masks when medical personnel and first responders cannot easily obtain them. But if this research turns out to be correct, we will soon have to consider protecting our faces with some kind of mask when interacting with other people during the pandemic.