The coronavirus pandemic has us reconsidering the way we do almost everything, including the way we interact with people. We now realize that a normal face-to-face conversation can be a surprisingly quick way to spread the virus, “given a person could expel 200 viral particles a minute via speech,” the New York Times reports.
So what’s the worst thing you can do when talking to someone? Standing in front of them, according to Seema Lakdawala, PhD, flu transmission researcher at the University of Pittsburgh. When talking face to face with someone, you put yourself in the direct line of the plumes of breath that come out of the individual’s mouth as they speak. As a result, Lakdawala suggests that it is best to turn away from people when talking to them in order to avoid contracting or transmitting coronavirus.
“If there’s any scenario where I’m face to face, with someone, I move my head off-center so I’m no longer inhaling that direct plume,” she says. But, she explains, “It’s not just about protecting myself, but also about protecting other people.” However, in order to do that, Lakdawala suggests avoiding direct eye contact with others, which can admittedly be awkward.
Although the topic has been debated for a long time, medical and public health researchers now understand that COVID-19 can spread through aerosolized droplets. Such tiny droplets spread when someone coughs, sneezes, or just speaks loudly or sings, which is why there are a variety of COVID outbreaks related to places like choir practices and loud bars. A May research published in the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences of the United States of America shows that the simple act of talking can transmit thousands of COVID-19 droplets to the air per second.
Unfortunately, these droplets are still detectable in the air for up to 14 minutes after the interaction came to an end. So it stands to reason that, if you find yourself interacting face to face with someone, it’s better to turn away and make sure the person you’re talking to isn’t speaking directly in front of your mouth, and you’re not directly in front of theirs, either. For example, you can always wear a mask that covers as much as possible for any in-person contact with people outside your house, keep the six feet distance, and keep discussions outdoors and under 15 minutes, if possible.
That’s because, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention ( CDC), if you have been within six feet of an infected individual for at least 15 minutes, starting 48 hours before the infected person began feeling sick, you are believed to have been in close contact with the virus.