Coronavirus FAQ: How Do I Protect Myself If The Coronavirus Can Linger In The Air?


Q: I’m hearing a lot of talk about the coronavirus spreading through aerosols — is wearing a mask in a grocery store enough protection? What else should I do to stay safe?

Quick answer first: Going to the grocery store where you and everyone else is wearing a mask and keeping a distance from each other is still considered a low-risk activity. Go get your summer strawberries!

For background, aerosols are tiny microdroplets containing the virus that can be expelled when we talk or breathe and can stay aloft and travel on air currents. It’s still unclear how much of a role they play in spreading the virus, but recently more than 200 scientists wrote an open letter asking the World Health Organization to pay more attention to them.

coronavirus FAQ graphics

CREDIT: Malaka Gharib/ NPR

The agency still maintains that the greater risk of spread appears to be from droplets — larger particles, also expelled when we talk or breathe, which settle more quickly and are less likely to accumulate in the air. However, WHO released a new scientific brief on July 9 saying that airborne transmission might be contributing to spread in crowded, poorly-ventilated indoor spaces such as gyms, choir practice rooms and nightclubs. But how much transmission aerosolized particles are responsible for, versus droplets and contaminated surfaces, they can’t say for sure.