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How does new theory of Covid-19 spread affect workplaces?

Updated: Aug 11, 2021

After months of debate regarding the mode of Covid-19 spread, more scientists are now acknowledging that aerosolized particles may be a primary vehicle of transmission. If this theory is correct, workplaces will need to address certain issues in their interiors or risk viral spread of Covid-19.

The consensus amongst scientists has been that Covid-19 spread has been through droplets and contact transmission. Many individuals and organizations including the WHO have not acknowledge viral spreading of this disease through aerosolization.

Whether the disease spreads through aerosolization also is crucial for disease containment. If aerosol spread occurs, the idea that individuals can contract the disease more readily from the exhaled breath of others becomes more likely Droplets are heavier than aerosolized particles and are more likely to fall harmlessly to the ground after a brief time suspended in the air Additionally, due to this heaviness, droplets do not travel more than a few feet.

Aerosolized particles (smaller than 5 micrometers) will linger longer in the air (one estimation is 8 minutes) and travel on air currents further distances. This way people further away will be exposed and more mask wearing is necessary. Aerosols are also more likely to be produced by simple talking and breathing. Without aerosol spread, unexposed individuals would see a worrisome trigger like coughing and breathing to identify someone who could spread the disease. Other studies in influenza patients have shown that 39% of individuals have airborne aerolized particles when they are infected. If aerosol spread is possible, the transmission could become much more insidious, especially in the spread of asymptomatic or presymptomatic individuals.

For the workplace, the aerosol spread theory of Covid-19 has major implications for environmental safety. Employers may have to increase spacing between individuals and be more strict about mask wearing. Issues like directional airflow from ventilatory systems becomes more important especially in indoor spaces. Seating may need to be removed downwind from vents or they may need special covers. Radiators and all other types of air circulation systems might need additional filters.

The mode of spread for Covid-19 will be debated for some time. Scientists may find that there is a large spectrum of particle size and that certain individuals may be more likely to spread the virus via aerosolization while others may spread via droplets. In the meantime, businesses should assume that aerosolization could be a part of that spread!

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