UNMC Study Confirms Coronavirus Can Be Spread by Tiny Airborne Particles

Aug. 26, 2021, 1:30 p.m. ·

Dr. Josh Santarpia
Dr. Josh Santarpia at the University of Nebraska Medical Center. (Photo from Zoom)

A new, peer-reviewed and vetted study by researchers at the University of Nebraska Medical Center confirms the coronavirus can be spread through tiny airborne particles, not just larger droplets from coughing and sneezing.

The study is published in the Journal of Exposure Science and Environmental Epidemiology and used data from people who had been quarantined aboard a cruise ship last year. Dr. Josh Santarpia is the research director of the University of Nebraska’s National Strategic Research Institute. He said follow-up research helped determine what size of particle could transmit SARS-coV-2 virus.

“We went back and we did quite a bit more work with patients after the pandemic was sort of swinging up in March and April of last year and were able to determine both the size of particles that have detectable SARS-coV-2 in them and also look for evidence of replication in cell culture and we were able to demonstrate replication in cell culture. The smallest particles we measured were less than one micron in size,” Dr. Santarpia said.

Previously, it was thought only larger droplets at least 5 microns in size could transmit the virus. Dr. Santarpia said he’s changed his opinion about effective masking and is confident any mask, even cloth masks, will help prevent transmission.

“While wearing something like high-level PPE like N-95 is protective enough for someone who is going to interact with a person that they know has COVID-19, we know that the other masks, like surgical masks and even cloth masks to some extent will limit your exposure to COVID-19 and can reduce the likelihood that you’re going to get the disease in sort of a limited time interaction with someone,” Dr. Santarpia said.

He was surprised at the study’s findings, that even tiny airborne particles can carry the virus, but said that doesn’t mean people should be afraid live life normally. He said extra caution is in order, but he’s still comfortable flying and doing other normal activities.