COVID-19 Stories: Airborne Transmission

Fall is prime time on the Western Slope, with temperatures perfect for dining outdoors, hiking in the desert, and taking in the colors on the Grand Mesa. However, as the weather cools, many are thinking ahead to winter and wondering whether more inside time will affect how we approach protecting ourselves and others from COVID-19. 

The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) recently published a brief with the most up-to-date information on airborne transmission of COVID-19. In public health, the term “airborne transmission” is usually reserved to describe infectious particles, like measles virus, that are able to stay in the air for longer periods of time and over greater distances. 

Since COVID-19 is a new virus, we’re still learning about how it behaves. However, COVID-19 appears to be primarily spread through respiratory droplets – small amounts of moisture exhaled into the air when we breathe, speak, sing, cough, or sneeze – that carry the infectious virus and quickly fall out of the air. This is why we are advised to stay at least six feet apart whenever possible, since close contact is defined as being within six feet of an infected person for fifteen minutes or more. 

As the days get shorter and we spend less time outside, however, it’s important to be aware of the circumstances when airborne transmission of COVID-19 is most likely to occur. According to the CDC, these include: 

  • Prolonged exposure to an area where there has been some kind of exertion, such as shouting, singing, or exercise, that increased the concentration of respiratory droplets;
  • Settings with inadequate ventilation that allowed infectious particles to build up in the air; and
  • Enclosed spaces where susceptible people have either been exposed directly to an infectious person or where the infectious person has recently spent time. 

The good news is that in most situations, the everyday precautions you’ve been hearing about for the past six months, like wearing a cloth face covering, washing your hands, and maintaining at least six feet between people not in the same household, are also likely to be sufficient to protect against airborne transmission. Taking steps to improve ventilation, such as opening doors and windows and using freestanding air filters, can also help. Additional information about how to protect yourself from airborne transmission of COVID-19 can be found here.

When people are in tighter quarters for longer periods of time, as we often are during the winter months, COVID-19 spreads more easily. Cold weather and early nightfall are right around the corner. If you’ve been lax about wearing a mask or keeping space between each other over the summer, now is the time to start being consistent in following those precautions to keep yourself, your friends and family, and our community healthy.     

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