But if there are people talking throughout — potentially launching viral particles into the air as they do — the odds of infection when unmasked jump to 54%.
If the crowd is masked, the risk of infection drops to 5.3% without talking and 24% with talking.
Given that COVID-19 spreads primarily through airborne particles, masks, ventilation, the number of people in a room or building and time spent in that space all factor heavily in the equation.
Also critical is what’s happening around someone. Heavy exercise poses the most risk, followed by shouting and singing, then normal speaking. Least worrisome is the “silent” category.
Unsurprisingly, being outdoors, masked and surrounded by silence is the best way to avoid coronavirus, researchers found. And the opposite is true: heavy exercise in a poorly ventilated place packed with maskless people is a nearly surefire way to catch COVID-19 — it’s 99% effective.
But in between those two extremes are findings that may surprise some.
For example, working out for even a short amount of time in a well-ventilated gym carries a 17% chance of infection if masks aren’t in use.
And if it’s poorly ventilated? There’s a 67% chance.
In many situations, changing just one single factor can be the difference between being relatively safe or likely infected.
The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention says that along with wearing masks, getting vaccinated and keeping at least six feet apart, improved ventilation — including open windows, ceiling fans and portable air cleaners — can help curb the spread of COVID-19.
“With good ventilation, the concentration of virus particles in the air will be lower and they will leave your home faster than with poor ventilation,” the agency says.
But researchers concluded that many indoor facilities, businesses, schools, houses of worship — the buildings where we spend our daily lives — are not adequately designed or equipped to handle the pandemic.
“We urgently need to improve the safety of the air that we breathe across a range of environments,” researchers wrote in their paper. “Data from COVID-19 outbreaks consistently show that a large fraction of buildings worldwide have very low ventilation rates despite the requirements set in national building standards.”
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