November 16, 2020
In many parts of the country, temperatures are dropping, and, naturally, we’ll be spending more time inside. But what does that mean for spreading COVID-19 and other viruses? Before we jump in, let’s start with the basics.
How Does COVID-19 Spread?
We’ve all heard that COVID-19 is mainly spread from close contact with infected people. But what does that really mean? When someone who has COVID-19 coughs, sneezes, sings or talks, they’re dispersing tiny respiratory droplets carrying the virus into the air. These droplets are heavy which limits them from traveling far distances in the air but if you are standing near someone (within about six feet from one another), these droplets may land in your mouth or nose, or you may inhale them. That’s why it’s recommended and often required to wear a mask when you’ll be within close range of people outside of your household. Your mask can help stop the spread of COVID-19 as it limits respiratory droplets from being expelled into the air.
But what about aerosols? You may have heard this term come up over the last few months in relation to COVID-19. Aerosols are different than droplets but are created the same way and can also occur through some medical procedures. According to the National Center for Biotechnology Information (NCBI), aerosols are smaller and evaporate in the air faster than droplets do which causes the viral particles to linger in the air and travel further distances than droplets.1 The NCBI has reported that the virus can remain viable in aerosols for three hours and can travel more than three feet horizontally.1 There is still a lot for researchers and scientists to learn about COVID-19 and how it spreads. While more is learned each day, it’s important for everyone to continue wearing masks, social distance themselves from others and practice frequent hand washing.
Ventilation: Why Does This Matter?
Over the spring and summer of 2020, you likely spent more time outdoors as it was recommended by leading health organizations as a way to socialize, enjoy restaurants and more. But why? Why were outdoor activities recommended over those taking place indoors? It all has to do with ventilation.
Ventilation is the act of moving and distributing air from the outdoors into a confined space. According to the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA), increasing ventilation can help reduce the concentration of viruses and other airborne contaminants indoors.2 When you’re outside, the air is naturally circulating and it is easier for airborne contaminants to disperse. Which is why outdoor dining and workout classes, and spending time in nature were recommended activities over the last few months. Keep in mind that spending time outdoors isn’t enough to reduce your chance of getting COVID-19, it needs to be paired with other safety measures that we’ve mentioned in this article.
If you’re spending time indoors, proper ventilation is even more important. Without the airflow and open spaces that you would find outside, the indoor air can become stagnant and increase the likelihood of diseases spreading, according to the American Lung Association.3 The EPA notes that the greater number of people indoors, the more you would need to ventilate the area with outdoor air.2
How to Increase Ventilation Indoors
In many parts of the country, the weather has turned cold and bitter and you’re likely spending more time inside. But don’t worry, there are easy ways to increase the ventilation inside your home this winter. Here are some recommended ways from the EPA.4
- Open windows or screened doors if possible and as the weather allows
- Use window fans or air conditioners that allow outside air intake or have a vent
- Turn on bathroom fans when the room is in use or use fan continuously, if possible
Like we mentioned before, increasing indoor ventilation alone is not enough to help prevent the transmission of COVID-19. Remember to also avoid the three Cs:
- Closed indoor spaces
- Close contact situations
- Crowded places
For additional protection, the three W’s can help you navigate COVID-19.
- Wear your mask
- Wash your hands
- Watch your distance from others
A new season with changing recommendations in the midst of a pandemic may feel overwhelming, but we’re here to help. If you think you may have COVID-19 or have come into contact with a confirmed case, call your local MedExpress center. We’re offering testing for COVID-19, the flu and more.
This content was medically reviewed by a MedExpress physician.
1 Transmission of Covid-19 Virus by Droplets and Aerosols: A Critical Review on the Unresolved Dichotomy. Last Updated June 13, 2020. Accessed October 7, 2020.
2 Ventilation and Coronavirus (COVID-19). Accessed October 7, 2020.
3 Bacteria and Viruses. Last Updated February 12, 2020. Accessed October 7, 2020.
4 How Can I Increase Ventilation at Home to Help Protect My Family from Covid-19? Accessed October 7, 2020.