“But it’s airborne”: COVID-19 prevention measures and aerosol spread

One of responses we commonly see to COVID-19 sneeze guards goes something like this: “But this virus is airborne. If it spreads through aerosols, why install physical barriers?”


More discussion continues below, but the short answer is that the strongest resistance to COVID-19 spread is a multifaceted response, one that includes the CDC recommendations of mask-wearing, physical distancing, hand-washing and good hygiene, and physical barriers where distance isn’t possible.



Aerosol spread: What we know

The issue of aerosols vs. respiratory droplets in the spread of COVID-19 launched a heated debate this summer among medical researchers, and the ratio of the different types of spread in coronavirus cases is still unclear. Dr. Tim Connolly, a pulmonologist at Houston Methodist Hospital, describes the current medical understanding this way:


“When it comes to viral spread through the air . . . it's a bit more complicated than you may think. There are two principle modes of air-based spread of viruses:


1. Respiratory droplets

2. Airborne transmission

“Respiratory droplets are little balls of saliva and moisture, potentially containing virus such as COVID-19, released from your mouth and nose — flying forward into your immediate area when you speak, cough or sneeze. These droplets don't travel very far, however, and are generally caught by even a simple face mask. During the pandemic, the logic behind mask-wearing and social distancing of at least six feet is principally to control the spread of COVID-19 via respiratory droplets.


“To be considered airborne, a virus must be able to remain in the air for a longer period usually by clinging to much smaller particles of water vapor or dust. If you've ever seen dust hanging in the air when walking into a sun-lit room, an airborne virus can hang glide on these dust particles in a room for up to three hours at a time. Viruses lingering in the air can gain entry into your body through your eyes, as well as your nose and mouth.”


Important to note is that the existence of aerosol transmission doesn’t rule out the possibility of spread through larger respiratory droplets.


“A bundle of precautions”

Early in the pandemic, the WHO and other public-health organizations saw respiratory droplets as the prevailing threat. But after weeks of research and discussion, as well as a petition from medical researchers to consider the possibility of aerosol spread, the World Health Organization published a scientific brief including airborne transmission as a means of spreading SARS-CoV-2.


So does that rule out the risk of spread through larger respiratory droplets? So far, no. That’s why leading health organizations still emphasize the importance of washing your hands thoroughly and frequently, as well as staying at least 6 feet away from other people when possible. (The 6-foot distance is based on the typical traveling distance of respiratory droplets, not aerosols.)


A July article from Nature quotes Benedetta Allegranzi, the WHO Technical Lead for Infection Prevention and Control, as saying, “It’s a bundle of precautions, including hand hygiene, including masks, including the distancing, which are all important.”


At this point, the CDC, Mayo Clinic, and OSHA all recommend physical barriers as a part of social distancing—providing a droplet barrier where a physical distance of 6 feet is unlikely.


Let us help

Based on the data and recommendations of the above medical organizations, we believe that our polycarbonate partitions can enhance COVID-19 prevention strategies in businesses and schools.


They come in standard and custom sizing to suit your needs, the polycarbonate we use is more durable than the acrylic commonly produced elsewhere, and most important—they provide an extra barrier for blocking droplets that spread when people talk, cough, or sneeze.


Combating a virus that spreads through two types of droplets requires multiple forms of defense. Contact us and let our engineers develop physical barriers to strengthen your organization’s defenses.