Read the full story from U.S. EPA.
As we learn more about SARS-CoV-2, the virus that causes COVID-19, there is mounting evidence that aerosols – airborne particles that are released through normal human breathing and speech, as well as through coughing and sneezing – are playing a role in transmission of the disease. Larger respiratory particles or droplets are commonly released during coughing or sneezing but only travel short distances before settling out of the air. Risks from exposure to these larger droplets are a primary reason for the public health recommendation for 6 feet of physical distancing. However, we also know that respiratory aerosols include many smaller particles that have the potential to carry viruses within them and can linger in the air, much like smoke. These smaller particles can travel longer distances and can build up in indoor air, especially when ventilation is poor. These factors can increase the potential for viral exposures.
As people gather in indoor spaces, such as schools and businesses, and increase ridership on mass transit, safe and effective mitigation measures and technologies are needed to help reduce the spread of the disease.
EPA researchers are working on a variety of projects to learn more about this issue. To determine how far exhaled aerosols spread in an office environment, EPA researchers are studying indoor air pathways. The focus of this work will be on an “open office” or a cubicle work environment where there is concern about the potential for direct movement of aerosols from an infected (though likely asymptomatic) individual to the breathing zones of individuals at other workstations in the office space. EPA researchers will first seek to determine baseline levels of exposure from aerosol transport and then test the impact of practical office modifications that could potentially reduce viral exposure.