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COVID-19 Transmission on Bus Demonstrates Distancing and Hand Washing Are Not Enough

Timothy Boyer Ph.D.'s picture
Bus air conditioning/ventilation systems are suspect spreaders of disease.

A unique incidence of COVID-19 transmission on a bus demonstrates that the recommendations of distancing and hand washing are not enough to stop the spread.

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A new study published by researchers from the University of Georgia reports that the case of at least one COVID-19 outbreak indicates that current COVID-19 beliefs are only part of the equation when it comes to controlling the spread of the coronavirus.

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“It was largely believed that close contact through droplets is a major route of transmission for COVID-19. However, the widely adopted social distancing and hand washing did not effectively prevent the transmission globally. Instead, the number of new COVID-19 cases increased steadily,” said Ye Shen, an associate professor of epidemiology and biostatistics at UGA’s College of Public Health and the first author on the study who identified the spread of the coronavirus due to a bus’s air conditioning system.

According to the news release, Shen and his co-authors traced infections that occurred following a large outdoor worship event in Zhejiang province. It turns out, two buses to the event were used, one of which carried an infected patient.

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Both buses had closed windows and had air conditioning running, said Changwei Li, an associate professor of epidemiology at Tulane University and study co-author—but one bus carried a patient infected with the virus, and the other did not.”

“Of the passengers who later got sick, the majority of them rode on the same bus as the source patient. Even though the two groups later mixed in with the larger crowd at the worship event, the number of new cases attributed to the event were much lower, suggesting that the bus was the major point of transmission.”

“Further, some of the bus passengers who later showed symptoms of COVID-19, the authors found, were not sitting close to the infected passenger.”

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The significance of these findings is that it adds to the mounting evidence that enclosed spaces with shared air ventilation systems are largely responsible for the coronaviral spread, which may necessitate that specialized air filtration systems just might be part of the new norm for businesses and public venues—especially when trying to manage a public that is anti-mask.

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“Understanding the transmission routes of COVID-19 is critical to contain the pandemic, so that effective prevention strategies can be developed targeting all potential transmission routes,” said Shen. “Our findings provide solid support for wearing face covering in enclosed environments with poor ventilation.”

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Timothy Boyer has a Ph.D. in Molecular and Cellular Biology from the University of Arizona. For 20+ years he has been employed as a freelance health and science writer. Today, with an eye on the latest news, Timothy continues writing about science with a focus on what you need to know for healthier living. For continual updates about health, you can also follow Timothy on Twitter at TimBoyerWrites.

Image Source: Courtesy of Nick Fewings on Unsplash

References:

Study supports airborne spread of COVID-19 indoors” UGA Today 29 Sept. 2020.

Community Outbreak Investigation of SARS-CoV-2 Transmission Among Bus Riders in Eastern China” Ye Shen, Ph.D. et al, JAMA Intern Med. Published online September 1, 2020.

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