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A Little About COVID-19, Its Transmission and Face Mask Efficacy

The ease and speed by which COVID-19 can be spread can't be overstated: one diseased person can infect an entire office, shop, factory or convention in short order, and many scientific studies bear this out.  Social distancing, mask wearing and hand-washing are all methods intended to minimize the amount of virus a person will encounter; none will entirely eliminate viral exposure and one shouldn't fall victim to the false sense of security created by believing he/she won't encounter it.  As such, experts agree that the single most effective measure that can be taken to reduce the spread is to wear a mask.  


COVID-19 is largely transmitted in two ways: droplets that act like rain and aerosols that act like fog.  A single cough releases ~ 3,000 large droplets; a single sneeze releases ~ 30,000 small droplets; and a single breath releases up to 5,000 droplets.  One droplet may contain as many as 200 million viral particles and it takes only 1,000 to launch an infection.  The viral particles from a cough can travel as far as 16 feet; a sneeze up to 26 feet.


With respect to direct transmission, an infected participant in a face-to-face conversation will transmit ~200 viral particles/minute and take only ~5 minutes to infect the other participant.  Because one breath can produce 100 viral particles, a person who inhales 10 breathes from an infected person can become infected.  Sharing an office with an infected person could be dangerous; and one infected person could infect an entire (meeting) room.  Moreover, COVID-19 has been found to remain active on many surfaces for as long as seven days, making workplaces virtual petri dishes.  As it relates to indirect transmission elates to indirect transmission, like fog that is so light it can float and occupy almost any space, COVID-19 aerosols can remain airborne for up to three hours.  A person entering a room following a cough or sneeze from an infected person who is no longer in that room could inhale enough viral particles to become infected.  This is very disconcerting as many of these viral particles are transmitted by asymptomatic carriers 


To exacerbate the problem, studies have shown that transmission can be greatly enhanced by HVAC systems that push virus-infected air particles to enable a single infected person to infect an entire office in a few hours.  Any high-density work environment can become a high-risk worksite and potential viral outbreak source.  Employers must re-think the obvious risks attendant to “low cubicle "open offices, conference rooms and project work spaces.


With our present knowledge of the ways by which COVID-19 droplets and aerosols spread, and knowing that anyone can fall victim by walking into a cloud of viral particulates left in the air by an infected person who is no longer in the vicinity, wearing a face mask takes on an added purpose beyond reducing community spread: to protect the wearer from being needlessly infected.  Clearly, a person who walks into a viral cloud is far better off if wearing a face mask that is intended, designed and purpose-built to provide some degree of protection from inbound viral pathogens.  For further discussion on this topic, click here and go to page 8of The Definitive Employer Guide to Purchasing Face Masks for Your Valued Employees