This is how much your risk of catching COVID-19 rises when you get in a car

As Coronavirus numbers remain high in the US, we know there are certain necessary precautions to take — such as avoiding confined spaces with other people. Medical experts are saying that this means car sharing could be one of the highest risk interactions to have during the COVID-19 pandemic.

“Sharing a car is one of the highest-risk interactions I have had to look at in my life,” Erin Bromage, Ph.D., a biology professor who researches infectious diseases at the University of Massachusetts-Dartmouth said.

The Center for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) recommends avoiding carpooling or sharing a ride with another passenger. This is because it’s nearly impossible to put six feet of distance between you and another person in a car. Most cars also lack proper ventilation, increasing the risk of infection by aerosols.

A study of flu transmission supported this claim, finding that aerosols were “an important mode of influenza virus transmission.” It is fair to assume that the same is true for coronavirus, especially in confined spaces with poor ventilation.

Infectious disease expert Zahid Butt added that it is especially important to avoid these situations because it’s not always obvious when someone is infected.

“Most of the cases that we’re seeing now are asymptomatic, so you don’t know whether they have the virus,” he said. “If a person is sitting in the car next to you, there is a chance (of spreading it).”

If for some reason, you can’t avoid sharing a car with another person, there are certain precautions the CDC recommends taking:

  • Try to only share a car with someone in your “bubble” who you would normally be spending time with anyway.
  • If using a car service, such as a taxi or Uber, sit in the back and put as much distance between you and the driver as possible.
  • Avoid using the recirculated air option for the car’s ventilation, use the car’s vents to bring in fresh outside air and/or keep the windows open.
  • Avoid contact with surfaces frequently touched by passengers or other drivers, such as door frame/handles, windows, seatbelt buckles, steering wheel, gearshift, signaling levers, and other vehicle parts before cleaning and disinfection.
  • Always wear a mask when going out, and especially when sharing a car or in any confined space.

Bromage agreed and said there is one simple precaution that can make a huge difference.

“In cars and ride-sharing, we want the windows open,” she said. “It makes things safer.”