Coronavirus droplets generated via talking can stay 12 minutes, study
People wearing masks in a supermarket in S. Paulo, Brazil /CFP

People wearing masks in a supermarket in S. Paulo, Brazil /CFP

Micro-droplets generated by speech can remain suspended in the air in an enclosed space for more than ten minutes, a study published Wednesday showed, underscoring their likely role in spreading COVID-19.   

Researchers at the National Institute of Diabetes and Digestive and Kidney Diseases (NIDDK) asked participants to loudly repeat the phrase "Stay healthy" for 25 seconds inside a closed box. While they were talking, a laser projected into the box illuminated droplets, allowing researchers to see and count the droplets produced by the speakers. 

The study shows droplets stayed in the air for an average of 12 minutes as soon as they left a person's mouth. They can float in the air for 8 to 14 minutes.

When taking into account the known concentration of coronavirus in saliva, scientists estimated that each minute of loudly speaking can generate more than 1,000 virus-containing droplets capable of remaining airborne for eight minutes or more in a closed space. 

"This direct visualization demonstrates how normal speech generates airborne droplets that can remain suspended for tens of minutes or longer and are eminently capable of transmitting disease in confined spaces," the researchers conclude.

The study was published in the journal Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences of the United States of America.

The same team had observed that speaking less loudly generates fewer droplets, in a work published in the New England Journal of Medicine in April. 

If the level of infectiousness of COVID-19 through speech can be confirmed, it could give a scientific boost to recommendations in many countries to wear a face mask, and help explain the virus's rapid spread. 

(With input from AFP)