6 Feet is not Enough: Turbulent Gas Clouds and Respiratory Pathogen Emissions: Potential Implications for Reducing Transmission of COVID-19 | Infectious Diseases | JAMA | JAMA Network

This JAMA Insights Clinical Update discusses the need to better understand the dynamics of respiratory disease transmission by better characterizing transmission routes, the role of patient physiology in shaping them, and best approaches for source control in the context of the COVID-19 outbreak.

Respiratory spray from a cough at 24 feet

The image above is a still photograph from a video examining the spray pattern from a typical sneeze or cough when not wearing a mask or covering your nose with your elbow.

The numbers are given by officials, at first 3 feet, then 6 feet are inaccurate.

Owing to the forward momentum of the cloud, pathogen-bearing droplets are propelled much farther than if they were emitted in isolation without a turbulent puff cloud trapping and carrying them forward. Given various combinations of an individual patient’s physiology and environmental conditions, such as humidity and temperature, the gas cloud and its payload of pathogen-bearing droplets of all sizes can travel 23 to 27 feet (7-8 m).3,4 Importantly, the range of all droplets, large and small, is extended through their interaction with and trapping within the turbulent gas cloud, compared with the commonly accepted dichotomized droplet model that does not account for the possibility of a hot and moist gas cloud. Moreover, throughout the trajectory, droplets of all sizes settle out or evaporate at rates that depend not only on their size, but also on the degree of turbulence and speed of the gas cloud, coupled with the properties of the ambient environment (temperature, humidity, and airflow).

Turbulent gas cloud dynamics should influence the design and recommended use of surgical and other masks. These masks can be used both for source control (ie, reducing spread from an infected person) and for protection of the wearer (ie, preventing spread to an unaffected person). The protective efficacy of N95 masks depends on their ability to filter incoming air from aerosolized droplet nuclei. However, these masks are only designed for a certain range of environmental and local conditions and a limited duration of usage.9 Mask efficacy as source control depends on the ability of the mask to trap or alter the high-momentum gas cloud emission with its pathogenic payload. Peak exhalation speeds can reach up to 33 to 100 feet per second (10-30 m/s), creating a cloud that can span approximately 23 to 27 feet (7-8 m). Protective and source control masks, as well as other protective equipment, should have the ability to repeatedly withstand the kind of high-momentum multiphase turbulent gas cloud that may be ejected during a sneeze or a cough and the exposure from them. Currently used surgical and N95 masks are not tested for these potential characteristics of respiratory emissions.


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Turbulent Gas Clouds and Respiratory Pathogen Emissions: Potential Implications for Reducing Transmission of COVID-19 | Infectious Diseases | JAMA | JAMA Network: