We ignore one of the most obvious ways to avoid spreading the coronavirus: stop talking too much


  • Talking loudly can spread the virus to others better than being silent.
  • It is possible that this is part of the reason why English speakers had higher infection rates than Japanese.
  • But that doesn’t mean we should all be silent.
  • Talking to others is one of the most important things you can do to maintain your sanity during the pandemic.
  • Visit the Business Insider homepage for more stories.

More than six months after the start of our global viral disaster, it has become clear that being within spitting range of other people is a potentially dangerous activity.

We have seen how singing can send the coronavirus flying into the bodies of others. Shouting in bars can also move the virus among crowds of people.

In short, one of the very things that makes us human – speaking to communicate our feelings and ideas – can now be considered a deadly threat, loaded with potentially infectious viral particles.

The stronger the communication, the more risky it is. Much like coughing, any type of howling, laughing, or singing can project infectious fragments of viruses into the air at others, sending these particles farther away than quieter sounds.

Derek Thompson at The Atlantic has gone so far as to recommend recently that maybe we should “shut up” almost entirely when we’re in public at the moment.

“It makes sense to encourage calm conversations, or even whisperings” during a pandemic, epidemiologist Saskia Popescu told Insider in an email, although she stressed that silence should never be considered. a substitute for wearing masks, social distancing and avoiding crowds.

But don’t start silencing your neighbors. According to linguist Deborah Tannen, verbal communication is a vital way to keep us healthy at an otherwise isolating time. We just need to do it safely.

Speech can propel viral particles into the air that linger there for several minutes

A teacher explains math during a lesson with sixth graders, who are seated at socially distant desks, on the second day back in class since March (during the novel coronavirus pandemic) on May 5, 2020 in Berlin, Germany Germany.
Christian Ender / Getty Images

Speaking loudly is dangerous because it throws more spittle into the air.

When we communicate verbally, we release both large, heavy droplets and tiny aerosols of gunk that are smaller and can stay in the air longer. The stronger the spray, the more likely it is to spread on someone else, get into their eyes, nose or mouth.

Scientists are still not sure exactly how much coronavirus it takes to make us sick, but it is generally accepted that the more we are exposed to the virus, the more we are at risk of developing an infection and the sicker. we can become.

This means that just as not all interactions carry the same level of risk, not all speech is created equal. Keeping a distance from the people you are chatting with and avoiding yelling and spitting when conversing is essential, but not everyone is used to this.

As a New Yorker, Tannen says her own language mannerisms can be especially dangerous.

“Shorter pauses, getting closer, speaking louder, being more relatively direct, talking about more personal matters, getting to the point faster, it all goes hand in hand,” says Georgetown University linguistics professor and author from the upcoming book “Finding My Dad Said.”

“I call it a high involvement style, where you show that you are a good person by emphasizing your involvement or your connection with other people, versus a high consideration style, where you show that you are a good person by not imposing on other people. ”

The amount of spit we swap is not just determined by the volume and proximity to others. The language we speak matters too. For example, Chinese and English are generally considered to be more spitting in nature than, say, Japanese.

Researchers have even suggested that one of the reasons why there were no probable cases of SARS in Japan during this global epidemic in 2002 and 2003, when more than 70 people were diagnosed with the disease in the states -United, it’s because the Japanese don’t. I have the same forcefully exhaled breaths in front of the p, t, k, q, ch and c as Chinese and English.

With the new coronavirus, too, infection rates have been incredibly low in Japan, raising questions whether the Japanese language and ways of speaking can play a role in preventing transmission.

Scientists from the National Institutes of Health and the University of Pennsylvania School of Medicine recently watched people pronounce the English phrase “stay healthy,” with its explosive “t” and “th” sounds, which, according to them, could well spread the virus (confirming that the suspicion in the laboratory would be a form of very unethical research.)

They estimated that a minute of loud conversation generates “at least 1000 droplet nuclei containing virions that remain airborne for more than 8 minutes”, potentially triggering coronavirus infections if inhaled by other.

The atmosphere in which we speak is also important, as the stagnant and stale air can turn speech into a “slowly descending cloud, emanating from the mouth of the speaker,” said the same study authors.

Like any other precaution, speaking quietly is only part of an intertwined system. Being around sick people, whether they talk or not, is always risky, especially when the interaction is inside and they are just starting to get sick.

Being silent might make large gatherings safer, but they’re still not without risk

Olivier Goudet, member of the “Trop Violans” collective, addresses masked demonstrators gathered in front of the Guyana prefecture in Cayenne, French Guyana, on July 22, 2020, while the South American territory of France is in shock. ‘an outbreak of COVID-19 cases.
Jody Amiet / AFP via Getty Images

There is nothing more dangerous than being indoors, in a poorly ventilated space, with a lot of people.

Outdoor gatherings, where there is almost infinite space for viral particles to dissipate, are safer, but crowds should always try to be quiet, according to Renyi Zhang, professor of atmospheric science and chemistry at Texas A&M. .

If football games continue this year (at 25% capacity, with masks) at Texas A&M, he believes trying not to shout or clap could mitigate the spread of the virus during games.

“It’s going to be hard for them to control their emotions, it’s going to be hard for them to stop supporting their team,” he said of A&M fans. “Enjoy the game, but try to be as quiet as possible. I think this will help. ”

He, for his part, will not be in the stands.

“It’s much safer to stay at home,” he says.

Talking is still necessary, especially at this time

discussion about the coronavirus in Italy
A medical worker wearing a face mask speaks on his mobile phone inside the new coronavirus intensive care unit at Brescia Poliambulanza hospital in Lombardy March 17, 2020.
Piero Cruciatti / AFP via Getty Images

Being silent probably won’t turn off the virus completely, but it could turn us off.

“Talking to people is our fundamental way of being human and crossing the world,” Tannen said.

Talking is also largely the point of coming face to face.

“The idea of ​​not speaking is ridiculous,” she added. “We have a lot to worry about. ”

Instead, the 75-year-old found other ways to stay safe and keep communicating. When she recently reunited with a virus-laden friend from Arizona, she was so cautious about sharing potentially infected air that the two men sat “much further than six feet from each other. ‘other,’ she said.

Then they each mistook their cell phones for a social distanced version of a face-to-face conversation.

“As long as you’re six feet away, wearing masks, I don’t think you should care how much you talk, or whether your tongue has any prompts or not,” she says.

“What people are really looking for is this in-person experience,” Zhang said of professors, students and colleagues who opt for in-person meetings.

He said that a classroom or an office with a few people in it was “probably okay,” and people shouldn’t be too worried about keeping their voices very low or whispering, which wouldn’t do. that bring people together anyway.

Quiet or loud, it’s going to be some time before we can safely meet again in large groups indoors.

Dr Anthony Fauci recently said we should wait until a safe and effective vaccine ‘has been around for almost a year’, enough time for most of the population to be vaccinated, before starting to pack again unmasked in theaters. movies.

“Instead of going to the theater at night and hanging out with friends, we zoom in with friends and have a lot of dinner parties at home,” Tannen said.


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