Social Distancing, Masks May Not Be Enough to Prevent Coronavirus Infection

October 23, 2020 11:05:58

When the pandemic began, many countries introduced guidelines to help curb the spread of the coronavirus. The most common of these included:

1.  Social distancing

2. Avoiding crowds; limiting the number of people in public places

3. Wearing a mask in public

However, these recommendations are based on decades-old scientific foundations that may not reflect the current state of knowledge. Consequently, several research groups have come together to develop a better and improved model of the spread of the disease’s infectious droplets. These researchers from the field of fluid dynamics have demonstrated that while it makes sense to maintain social distancing and wear a mask, this alone shouldn’t lull you into a false sense of security. Even with a mask on, these contagious droplets can be spread over several meters and remain in the air longer than researchers had previously thought.

Researchers from MIT (Boston), Clarkson University (Potsdam, New York), the Sorbonne (Paris), the University of Florida (Gainesville, Florida) and TU Wien (Vienna) were involved in the research project. The research project was published in the “International Journal of Multiphase Flow.”

Alfredo Soldati, a professor at TU Wien says that the globally accepted understanding of how droplets spread is based on measurements from the 1930s and ‘40s, but the measuring methods used during those periods weren’t as good as today’s technology. This led the researchers to suspect that small droplets couldn’t be reliably measured at that time.

The professor from the Institute of Fluid Mechanics and Heat Transfer goes on to add that in previous models, there was a difference between small and large droplets. The small droplets moved forward in an almost straight line while large droplets were pulled downwards by gravity. This, he says, makes the picture oversimplified, which only highlights the need to further adapt models to the latest research. This will help health experts better understand how the coronavirus spreads.

Soldati then adds that masks are useful because they stop large droplets. Maintaining a distance is also helpful. However, the results from the research study demonstrate that neither of these measures provide 100% protection.

The good news is that with the current simulations in progress and the new mathematical model, scientists can now calculate the concentrations of the contagious droplets at different times and distances. Soldati observes that up until now, coronavirus protection measures have been based on studies from the epidemiology and virology fields. He hopes that in the future, findings from the fluid mechanics field will also be included.

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