SARS-Cov-2, or Covid-19 is currently a serious health concern, and an important reason for the severity of this problem is that Covid-19 spreads through respiratory droplets. This means that a person can transmit the virus to other people by talking, coughing, or sneezing in the general vicinity of other people. Research shows that although sneezing is not a main symptom of Covid-19, an asymptomatic person can spread the disease through seasonal allergies or a random sneeze. Guidelines have been put in place such as wearing masks in public and staying six feet apart from others to prevent this. Six feet is a reasonable distance and reduces the possibility of spreading the virus through talking and coughing, but a sneeze can travel much farther than six feet.
According to research from Lydia Bourouiba, a scientist at MIT, images and video slowed down to 2,000 frames per second show that mucus and saliva can burst from a person’s mouth at nearly a hundred miles an hour and travel as far as 27 feet. This is much farther than previously believed. A study done by MIT researchers determined that coughs and sneezes travel through associated gas clouds, and this allows droplets to travel much farther. Because of this gas cloud, respiratory droplets can travel 200 times farther than if they moved as unconnected particles and can remain suspended in the air for an extended period of time. This often allows droplets to travel far enough and stay in the air long enough to reach ventilation units. Research done by the University of Bristol also found a sneeze can send 100,000 contagious germs into the air, and the small size of these particles allows these respiratory droplets to remain suspended in the air from “seconds to weeks.”
The potential of pathogens, including Covid-19, to spread through sneezes is greater than anyone would have expected. Although it is not necessarily true that social distancing at six feet is effective, it is important to follow that guideline and even more importantly, wear masks. Without even accounting for the great distance sneezes travel, masks are important to limit the travel of respiratory droplets. It is impossible to avoid the transmission of pathogens through sneezing with social distancing, so wearing a mask is absolutely necessary.