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What Does It Mean for a Virus to Be 'Airborne'?

coronavirus cells
By Elizabeth Hanes, BSN, RNJune 10, 2020

This post was updated on 7/8/20 to reflect updated information.

A virus is considered to be “airborne” if you can catch it from inhaling aerosols from the air – without being directly coughed on (aerosols are the particles of spit and mucus you emit when talking, sneezing, coughing, or even laughing). This can happen if an infected person coughs in an enclosed space and then moves on, leaving behind an invisible cloud of viral particles for someone else to inhale. Depending on various factors, such as the size of the viral particles and the volume of droplets coughed out, these aerosols can linger in the air for minutes to hours.

When it comes to COVID-19, scientists know the virus spreads through droplets - the aerosols you inhale directly from an infected person at close range, such as when they cough or sneeze on you (within six feet of your face). But many doctors and scientists now believe it also may spread via airborne transmission.  

What does this mean for you? If their theories are correct and COVID-19 spreads through the air, you can pick it up much more easily than previously believed. To reduce your risk, you should wear your face mask as snugly as possible and avoid being in an enclosed space with other people. Some scientists are speculating that  the infectious particles of the coronavirus may linger in the air for several hours, so, for example, if you eat inside a restaurant two hours after an infected person coughed, you could contract the virus simply by breathing the same air.

Because the research continues to evolve regarding COVID-19, you should try to stay up to date regarding new findings that can help keep you and your family safe during this pandemic.

 

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