I’ve had several questions since this COVID-19 pandemic came to America but there are two questions I have been trying to find answers to. The first question…Why has the response to the pandemic seemed so disproportionate to the threat, especially compared to other viruses? 

My second question…How can so many people still be sneezing and coughing on each other and spreading the disease given that the general public was made aware that this was the main form of transmission of COVID-19? 

When large groups starting coming down with the virus like the Detroit Police Department, that really made me look into my questions even more because things weren’t making sense. 

Are these police officers all coughing and sneezing on each other? Are that many officers getting sneezed on by the people they arrest? That seemed unlikely. Like everyone else, I wanted answers. 

In doing my research, I came up with three components that I believe are helping to spread the disease at a fast rate. And by a fast rate, I am looking at how long it takes the confirmed case and death rates to double. There is a very informative website you can check out if you are a data geek like me. It explains that, in America, it is currently taking four days to double our COVID-19 death rate and six days to double the confirmed case rate. 

The three things I believe are happening to make COVID-19 so contagious are as follows…infected droplets traveling farther than we thought in a gas form, ventilation systems spreading the infection, and breathing being enough to exhale the virus in close proximity. 

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I’ve discovered in a published study from an experiment done in 2014 that sneeze and cough droplets travel farther than we thought because they are trapped in a “gas” that reaches up to 26 feet. 

The second part of the component is learning that ventilation systems are picking up the virus and spreading it around a room or building. 

The third part of the component is learning that the virus spreads from breathing, not just coughing and sneezing, something that I think is being supported by the Trump administration’s recommendation that Americans should wear a mask in public. The masks keep the asymptomatic people from breathing out the virus and can also possibly shield uninfected people from breathing in the virus. 

When you look at Japan, who has not shut down their economy like us, they have been able to spare their citizens the medical and financial disaster of the virus according to National Review. They’ve been able to manage the growth of cases and deaths to a modest rate while keeping much of its economy open. 

Japan currently has 2935 cases of COVID-19. There are 18 states in the U.S. with numbers higher than that. The difference? I believe it’s the masks

Let’s take a look at Component #1 – This component comes out of the study that shows our sneeze and cough droplets continue to spread in a gas form enabling them to go much farther than six feet. This was explained in a recent report by Lydia Bourguiba, PhD from MIT called Turbulent Gas Clouds and Respiratory Pathogen Emissions.” 

It was a synopsis from her study in 2014 called Violent Expiratory Events: on Coughing and Sneezing.” 

In her study, she came to the conclusion that sneeze droplets can go 23-27 feet because they are trapped in a high momentum gas cloud. She states that the current models of distancing three to six feet from each other is based on an old 1930’s model that needs to be updated. 

In the 1930’s, Dr. William Wells focused on tuberculosis transmission and how it was transmitted from person to person based on droplet sizes. Recommendations were made based on whether a virus was primarily transmitted by small or large droplets and how fast they evaporated. From there it was decided how far away person-to-person contact should be based on whether transmission was through droplets or the aerosol route (suspension of the virus in the air). 

In Bourguiba’s study, conducted with 100 people, she says that exhalations (breathing), sneezes and coughs consist of mucosalivary droplets at the short-range but that they also produce a multiphase turbulent gas (puff) cloud that traps the cluster of droplets within it. This gas cloud allows the droplets to evade evaporation for a much longer time, from seconds to minutes. These droplets are propelled much farther because of the cloud. The cloud contains both small and large droplets. 

Bourouiba’s study, which documented the gas clouds of coughs and sneezes, didn’t directly evaluate people infected with COVID-19 but she believes that the properties of exhaled gals clouds and its transmission may apply to this pathogen. 

Droplets that settle along the trajectory can contaminate surfaces while the rest are trapped in the cloud. Eventually the droplet cloud evaporates producing a residue. Bourouiba believes this droplet nuclei can stay suspended in the air for hours and follow the airflow patterns imposed by ventilation or climate-control systems. And then they can be inhaled. 

Bourouiba says a 2020 report from China demonstrated that the virus particles could be found in the ventilation systems in hospital rooms of patients with COVID-19 which seems consistent with the turbulent gas cloud hypothesis of disease transmission because of the long distance the virus was able to travel. 

Climate-Control Systems are Component #2 of my theory. On the National Institute of Health’s own website, it talks about studies demonstrating a definitive association between the transmission of disease and the ventilation of buildings. 

They put together a review panel comprised of medical and engineering experts in the fields of microbiology, medicine, epidemiology, indoor air quality, building ventilation, and other areas, most of whom had experience with research into the SARS epidemic. They searched through the NIH literature databases between 1960 and 2005 and concluded there was strong and sufficient evidence to demonstrate the association between ventilation, air movements in buildings and the transmission/ spread of infectious diseases such as measles, tuberculosis, chickenpox, influenza, smallpox and SARS. 

The COVID-19 pandemic has prompted a response in the HVAC Industry because they are well- aware that air is recirculated through enclosed buildings and people are curious how a virus can be spread this way. 

William Bahnfleth, professor of architectural engineering at the Pennsylvania State University and founding director of its Indoor Environment Center, has discussed the potential for airborne transmission

He said. “If viruses that are viable are in those droplets that you’re producing, some of them will be small enough that they will stay airborne for a long time. So, it’s not impossible that infectious particles in the air could stay aloft long enough to be collected, say at the return grille of an HVAC system, go through a duct, and infect someone in a different space.” 

Also back in 2009, the American Society of Heating, Refrigeration and Air-Conditioning Engineers issued a report that suggested ventilation systems could spread droplets infected with the flu when someone sneezes or coughs. 

An article in Passport Health talks about how viruses spread quickly within offices because people are cooped in their cubicles, stuck with heating and ventilation systems that don’t purify the air. The virus spreads through the offices and also lands on surfaces commonly touched by employees – door handles, desks, scissors and much more. This is why using hand sanitizers, washing your hands and not touching your face is so important when you are at work or out in the public. 

I believe this second component of my theory explains how COVID-19 is running quickly through places like police departments, nursing homes, restaurants and offices where the virus is spread through a building and in different rooms, especially those with shared spaces. The virus can be breathed in or stay on shared surfaces to be touched later. My hope is that that when places like a nursing home have a sudden outbreak that it would be protocol to check the ventilation systems for the virus. 

This leads me to the third component in my theory of the virus spread which is breathing. Originally, we were told to only be concerned with sneezing and coughing as a means of how the virus was spreading. However, according to many articles about spreading a virus through breathing, this seems to be another route of virus spread that we need to pay attention to based on other viruses which are spread this way. 

According to an article in the Medical News Today, just breathing out, without coughing or sneezing, is enough for a person with the flu to spread the virus. This research as done by the University of Maryland in College Park. 

The research said that people with the flu “generate infectious aerosols (tiny droplets that stay suspended in the air for a long time) even when they are not coughing, and especially during the first days of illness.” 

Researchers don’t know how many virus-laden particles people infected with COVID-19 expel in an average droplet but an average cough has as many as 3,000 droplets and an average sneeze up to 40,000 droplets according to a USA Today news report. That’s lot of droplets from one person and one cough or sneeze – but then again, how many of us only sneeze or cough once when we get going? 

The unfortunate part of this research is that I found no relevant information regarding the distance the droplets go from just breathing and how far they will be suspended in the air without further propulsion. 

This article was not written to scare you. It was written to inform you of the different pieces I have put together to explain the contagiousness of the virus so that you make good decisions when you’re out in pubic. I am not a doctor or a scientist. I am just someone trying to make sense out of our current circumstances. I want to be able to protect myself, my family and friends, and others as much as possible. 

My own protocol when going out in public includes wearing gloves in stores and when pumping gas, wearing a mask in stores, washing my hands frequently, and not touching my face. I’m not saying this will be 100% effective against contracting COVID-19 but I think it definitely gives me an advantage over those who aren’t doing the same.