Part of the reason the coronavirus is so frightening is its invisibility. We can’t see where it lingers and have no idea if we’re coming into contact with it. Sure, we’re social distancing (if you’re not, you better start) but can we still encounter the virus in the air at the grocery store or outside?
We don’t yet have an in-depth understanding of the novel coronavirus, including how it’s transmitted through the air. But a recent preliminary study published in the New England Journal of Medicine gives us some clues.
Researchers examined how long the coronavirus lasted on surfaces like steel and plastic (up to three days ― yikes). They also looked at how long the virus stayed in the air in the form of an “aerosolized particle.”
Aerosolized particles are essentially microscopic, and they’re formed when fluids containing the virus are expelled from a person and cling to dust or moisture in the air and hang there. The researchers found that airborne coronavirus particles stayed floating for up to three hours before falling and clinging to a new surface.
Before you panic, there’s something important to note: This study was conducted in a very controlled setting. The likelihood of encountering the virus in this form is low for an average person, experts have previously told HuffPost. The virus doesn’t stay in the air enough to be a risk to people who are not physically near someone who is infected.
This is because droplets from someone sneezing or coughing are typically much heavier than an aerosolized particle.
“The experimental aerosols used in labs are smaller than what comes out of a cough or sneeze, so they remain in the air at face-level longer than heavier particles would in nature,” Carolyn Machamer, a professor of cell biology whose lab at the Johns Hopkins School of Medicine, said in a Q&A.
However, the phenomenon is a concern for health care workers. Aerosolized particles can easily form in medical settings during...