Conversation quickly spreads droplets inside buildings

With implications for the transmission of diseases like COVID-19, researchers have found that ordinary conversation creates a conical 'jet-like' airflow that quickly carries a spray of tiny droplets from a speaker's mouth

Newswise — With implications for the transmission of diseases like COVID-19, researchers have found that ordinary conversation creates a conical 'jet-like' airflow that quickly carries a spray of tiny droplets from a speaker's mouth across meters of an interior space.

"People should recognize that they have an effect around them," said Howard Stone, the Donald R. Dixon '69 and Elizabeth W. Dixon Professor of Mechanical and Aerospace Engineering at Princeton University. "It's not just around your head, it is at the scale of meters."

Although scientists have not yet fully identified the transmission mechanisms of COVID-19, current research indicates that people without symptoms could infect others through tiny droplets created when they speak, sing or laugh. Stone and co-lead researcher Manouk Abkarian, of the University of Montpellier in France, wanted to learn how widely and quickly exhaled material from an average speaker could spread in an interior space.

"Lots of people have written about coughs and sneezes and the kinds of things you worry about with the flu," Stone said. "But those features are associated with visible symptoms, and with this disease we are seeing a lot of spread by people without symptoms."

In an article published Sept. 25 in the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences, the researchers concluded that for interior activities, normal conversations can spread exhaled material at least far as, if not beyond, social distancing guidelines recommended by the World Health Authority (1 meter) and U.S. officials (2 meters.) The work examined particle flow in an interior space without good ventilation.

Stone and Abkarian stressed that they are not public health experts and are not making medical recommendations. However, they said public health officials should consider the aerodynamic movement of aerosolized particles generated by speech alone already as an important factor for directed spreading.

"It certainly highlights the importance of ventilation," Stone said. "Especially if you have an extended conversation."

The researchers also said that while masks do not completely block the flow of aerosols, they play a critical role in disruption of the 'jet-like' air flow from a speaker's mouth, preventing the quick transport of droplets on large length scales bigger than 30 cm.

"Masks really cut this flow of tremendously," Stone said. "This identifies why (most) masks play a big role. They cut everything off."

The researchers specialize in fluid dynamics, which describes the movement of liquids and gasses. Using a high-speed camera, they film the movement of a mist of tiny droplets illuminated by a laser sheet in front of a person speaking several different phrases adjacent to the sheet. The phrases ranged from short statements like "we will beat the corona virus" to nursery rhymes including "Peter Piper picked a peck" and "Sing a song of six pence." The researchers selected the phrases to include different sounds that affect turbulent flows in a speaker's exhalation.

The researchers found that plosive sounds like 'P' create puffs of air in front of the speaker while a conversation created what the researchers called a "train of puffs." Each puff creates a small vortex of air in front of the speaker, and the interaction of these vortices creates a cone-shaped 'jet-like' airflow from the speaker's mouth. The researchers found that this airflow could easily and very quickly carry tiny particles away from the speaker.

Abkarian said that even a short phrase can move the particles past the 1-meter distancing recommended by the World Health Organization in a matter of seconds.

The researchers said the distance depends in part on the duration of the conversation. Someone speaking for more time will send particles farther. They said that the 6-foot distancing rule may not be a sufficient barrier in an interior space without good ventilation.

"If you speak for 30 seconds in a loud voice, you are going to project aerosol more than six feet in the direction of your interlocutor," Stone said.

In the paper, the researchers found that aerosols ejected during speech typically reached the 2-meter distance in about 30 seconds, and over that distance the aerosols' concentration diluted to about 3 percent of the original volume. It was beyond the paper's scope to say whether the dilution was sufficient to protect against infection, although the researchers noted that many will find this concentration to be higher than expected. The researchers said they hoped the information could help public health officials to make that determination. They also noted that longer conversations had the potential to spread more material and spread the virus over a larger distance.

"However, more extended discussions, and meetings in confined spaces, mean that the local environment will potentially contain exhaled air over a significantly longer distance," the researchers wrote.

The researchers said the experiment showed that a social distance of 6 feet (2 meters) did not work like a wall to protect people. Over time, conversations can cause material to move past the distance, particularly inside buildings.

The train of puffs created by a conversation causes a more complex turbulent flow than single jets of air and researchers had to account for it in their calculations. The researchers used the data from the experiments to create a mathematical framework to quantify the transport of droplets from the speaker's mouth to the surrounding area. They noted that the work does not account for movement of the speaker's head or body and background air movement caused by ventilation and other speakers. Analyzing those factors would require further work.

###

Besides Stone and Abkarian, researchers include: Simon Mendez of the University of Montpellier; Nan Xue and Fan Yang, graduate students in mechanical and aerospace engineering at Princeton. Support for the project was provided in part by a National Science Foundation RAPID grant program.

SEE ORIGINAL STUDY




Filters close

Showing results

110 of 3835
Released: 29-Oct-2020 2:25 PM EDT
Contrary to the viral rumors on social media, Dr. Fauci did not write a paper on how masks caused mass deaths in the 1918 flu pandemic
Newswise

Posts are being shared on social media attempting to negate the use of masks as protective devices during the pandemic. These claims are false. Fauci did not blame mask use for any deaths that occurred during the 1918 Spanish flu.

Newswise: How Does the Environment Impact COVID-19?
Released: 29-Oct-2020 2:10 PM EDT
How Does the Environment Impact COVID-19?
Homeland Security's Science And Technology Directorate

S&T NBACC research finds that sunlight is the strongest environmental factor that inactivates COVID-19.

Released: 29-Oct-2020 1:25 PM EDT
The Lancet Healthy Longevity: Residential context important factor in risk of COVID-19 mortality among older adults, Stockholm study suggests
Lancet

New study of older adults (aged 70 or over) in Stockholm, Sweden, suggests older people living in care homes had higher COVID-19 mortality risk than those living in single houses or apartment buildings.

Released: 29-Oct-2020 1:10 PM EDT
Study measures effectiveness of different face mask materials when coughing
University of Cambridge

A team of researchers have tested everything from t-shirts and socks to jeans and vacuum bags to determine what type of mask material is most effective at trapping the ultrafine particles which may contain viruses such as SARS-CoV-2, the virus which causes COVID-19.

Newswise: Hide and seek: Understanding how COVID-19 evades detection in a human cell
Released: 29-Oct-2020 12:35 PM EDT
Hide and seek: Understanding how COVID-19 evades detection in a human cell
Argonne National Laboratory

Scientists using the Advanced Photon Source have discovered new insights into the ways the SARS-CoV-2 virus camouflages itself inside the human body.

Released: 29-Oct-2020 12:20 PM EDT
Two million lost health coverage, thousands died prematurely in Trump's first 3 years
Physicians For A National Health Program

A new analysis of federal surveys on health insurance coverage concludes that the number of uninsured Americans increased by about 2.3 million between 2016 and 2019.

Released: 29-Oct-2020 12:05 PM EDT
How people would choose who gets scarce COVID-19 treatment
Ohio State University

As COVID-19 cases begin climbing again in the United States, the possibility arises of a grim moral dilemma: Which patients should be prioritized if medical resources are scarce?

Newswise: 247273_web.jpg
Released: 29-Oct-2020 12:00 PM EDT
Escaping the 'Era of Pandemics': experts warn worse crises to come; offer options to reduce risk
The Intergovernmental Science-Policy Platform on Biodiversity and Ecosystem Services (IPBES)

Future pandemics will emerge more often, spread more rapidly, do more damage to the world economy and kill more people than COVID-19 unless there is a transformative change in the global approach to dealing with infectious diseases, warns a major new report on biodiversity and pandemics by 22 leading experts from around the world.

Released: 29-Oct-2020 10:05 AM EDT
UH and CWRU Announce Study of AstraZeneca’s COVID-19 Vaccine Candidate
University Hospitals Cleveland Medical Center

University Hospitals and Case Western Reserve University announcement that UH Cleveland Medical Center has been selected as a clinical trial site for the Phase 3 global study of an investigational vaccine against SARS-CoV-2, sponsored by AstraZeneca (LSE/STO/NYSE: AZN).

Newswise:Video Embedded research-video-news-brief-projecting-the-potential-impact-of-covid-19-school-closures-on-academic-achievement
VIDEO
Released: 29-Oct-2020 9:55 AM EDT
Research Video News Brief: Projecting the Potential Impact of COVID-19 School Closures on Academic Achievement
American Educational Research Association (AERA)

A study published today in Educational Researcher, a peer-reviewed journal of the American Educational Research Association, provides preliminary projections of the impact of COVID-19-related school closures in spring 2020 on student learning. The study authors found that compared to a typical year, students likely did not gain as much academically during the truncated 2019–20 school year and likely lost more of those gains due to extended time out of school.


Showing results

110 of 3835

close
1.1461