Simulation shows how a cough can spread coronavirus in a store


Finnish researchers have published a spooky simulation showing how droplets from a single cough in a supermarket can hang in the air for “several minutes” and cross two aisles – possibly infecting nearby shoppers with coronavirus.

Aalto University, the Finnish Meteorological Institute, the VTT Technical Research Center of Finland and the University of Helsinki have studied how aerosolized particles coughed up by the respiratory tract during coughing, sneezing – or even talking – circulate in the air.

Preliminary results indicate that tiny particles carrying the coronavirus may persist in the air longer than originally thought, which explains the importance of avoiding crowded indoor spaces.

The four research organizations each independently performed the modeling, using the same starting conditions, for a person coughing in an aisle between the shelves, according to Aalto University.

“A person infected with the coronavirus can cough and move away, but then leave extremely small aerosol particles carrying the coronavirus,” said Aalto University assistant professor Ville Vuorinen.

“These particles could then end up in the airways of other people nearby,” he added.

Jussi Sane, chief specialist at the Finnish Institute of Health and Welfare, stressed the importance of the preliminary results.

“The institute recommends that you stay home if you feel unwell and maintain a physical distance from everyone. The instructions also include coughing up your sleeve or a handkerchief and taking care of good hand hygiene, “said Sane.

“Based on the consortium’s modeling, it is not yet possible to issue new recommendations directly. However, these findings are an important part of the whole, and they must be compared with data from actual epidemic studies, “added Sane.

The 30 researchers – specializing in fluid dynamics, aerosol physics, social networks, ventilation, virology and biomedical engineering – used a supercomputer that modeled the airborne movement of aerosolized particles less than 20 micrometers – or .0007874 of an inch, according to the university.

“For a dry cough, which is a typical symptom of the current coronavirus, the particle size is usually less than 15 micrometers,” he said.

“Extremely small particles of this size do not flow on the ground, but rather move in the air currents or remain floating in the same place. Influenza A studies have confirmed that the influenza A virus is found in the smallest particles, which are less than 5 microns in size. “


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