This Simulation Shows How Far A Cough Can Travel In Public Spaces

When a person coughs, sneezes, or talks, they can project small aerosol particles through the air, carrying with them pathogens like coronaviruses. Petteri Peltonen/Aalto University/YouTube

This simulation created by Finnish researchers shows how far the novel coronavirus can remain in and spread through the air, highlighting the importance of avoiding crowded public spaces during the pandemic.

When a person coughs, sneezes, or talks, they can project small aerosol particles through the air, carrying with them pathogens like coronaviruses. The simulation shows how a cloud of particles can spread beyond the immediate vicinity of a person, taking several minutes to spread and disperse.

“Someone infected by the coronavirus, can cough and walk away, but then leave behind extremely small aerosol particles carrying the coronavirus,” said Ville Vuorinen, an assistant professor at Aalto University, in a statement. “These particles could then end up in the respiratory tract of others in the vicinity.”

The simulation is the result of independent models individually run by experts with Aalto University, Finnish Meteorological Institute, VTT Technical Research Centre of Finland, and the University of Helsinki using a supercomputer and three-dimensional visualizations. The simulation took into consideration ventilation systems and air velocity to determine the movement of aerosol particles smaller than 20 micrometers in an aisle in between shelves, like you'd find in a grocery store. For comparison, particles from a dry cough are typically smaller than 15 micrometers.

Though the simulation is not specific to SARS-CoV-2, the coronavirus that is responsible for the respiratory disease COVID-19, the researchers say that the findings highlight the importance of following current recommendations for mitigating the spread of the virus. These include staying home if feeling unwell, practicing physical and social distancing, coughing into a sleeve or tissue, and practicing good hand hygiene.

Visualizing the “invisible movements” of viral particles is important to understanding how infectious diseases spread and what environmental conditions may influence their movement.

"Based on the modeling of the consortium, it is not yet possible to directly issue new recommendations,” said Jussi Sane, chief specialist at the Finnish Institute for Health and Welfare. “However, these results are an important part of the whole, and they should be compared with the data from real-life epidemic studies.”

The researchers modeled a situation in which a person coughs down a shelf-restricted corridor typical of grocery stores. Petteri Peltonen/Aalto University

 

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