Recently, during a Workforce Executive Council virtual event, University of Minnesota infectious disease expert, Michael Osterholm, expressed concern about the insistence that masks (all on their own) will end the COVID-19 pandemic.
Although Osternholm concedes that they are important components in our mission to suppress the coronavirus growth curve, research is actually limited with respect to the degree to which they will do so.
Getting everyone to wear masks everywhere is a good start, but it may not be enough.
On a nearly weekly basis, new transmission risks enter academic consideration.
The latest comes from The University of Manchester. After analyzing 2,000 participants based out of the US and England, the authors concluded that we’ve maybe underestimated the potential of aerosol infections.
So much so in fact, populations that stand above six feet nearly double their risk for COVID-19 transmission.
It is currently believed that coronavirus virions remain active for at least three hours while suspended airborne. The number of active particles present decreases over time. So by hour two, a person is exposed to less viral material via the same turbulent cloud.
The new report, conducted by a team of data scientists in the UK, Norway, and the US, posits that the taller the subject the higher their chance of coming into contact with active viral particles.
These findings further distance the potential for indoor gatherings given, aerosols reliably remain stable in poorly ventilated enclosed spaces.
“This has been suggested by other studies but our method of confirmation is novel,” explained Professor Evan Kontopantelis, from The University of Manchester. “Though social distancing is still important because transmission by droplets is still likely to occur, it does suggest that mask-wearing may be just as if not more effective in prevention. But also, air purification in interior spaces should be further explored.”
Although aerosol transmission risk is 3.5 times higher in the US, (studied to be 1.7 times higher in the UK) mask awareness and social distancing can dramatically reduce transmission rates.
Coronavirus particles evidence an average diameter of about 0.1 micrometers. Disposable medical masks have been proven to intercept between 96% and 99% of viral debris. These will do if you don’t have access to multilayered cloth material. Recent findings have shown that a four-layer cotton muslin mask can consistently reduce the contamination of all viral particles by 99%.
Containing SARS-CoV-2 appears to require medical experts, municipalities, and civilians to account for every conceivable outcome.
People who called for masks were considered alarmists until transmissions skyrocketed, the same was true for shelter in place mandates, quarantining, and increased testing.
Droplets are still likely the most common route of infection, which why maintaining a distance of six feet is so important. As it stands, many virologists have identified cluster spreading as the most impactful element of rising COVID-19 transmissions.
The new paper has yet to be reviewed but if the pandemic crisis has taught us anything, it’s to take every potentiality seriously until principled analysis advises otherwise.