For the study, researchers at Aalto University, the Finnish Meteorological Institute, the VTT Technical Research Centre of Finland and the University of Helsinki used a supercomputer to simulate the spread of small viral particles leaving a person's respiratory tract through coughing. They simulated a scenario in which a person coughs in a store aisle between shelves, and took into account ventilation.
They found that, in this situation, an aerosol "cloud" spreads outside the immediate vicinity of the person coughing, and diluted as it spreads, the authors said. But this process takes up to several minutes, and in the meantime, a person who walks by could in theory inhale the small particles.
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"Someone infected by the coronavirus can cough and walk away, but then leave behind extremely small aerosol particles carrying the coronavirus. These particles could then end up in the respiratory tract of others in the vicinity," Ville Vuorinen, and assistant professor in the Department of Mechanical Engineering at Aalto University, who studies fluid dynamics, said in a statement.
Based on their findings, the researchers recommend avoiding busy indoor spaces.
The researchers modelled the movement of aerosol particles smaller than 20 micrometers, which include particles small enough to remain suspended in the air (rather than falling to the floor) or move along air currents.
The researchers will continue to refine their modeling and develop visualizations to help better understand the movement of airborne particles.
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Originally published on Live Science.