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CDC Now Says You Can Catch COVID This Way

It can hang in the air, says the CDC. For hours.
FACT CHECKED BY Emilia Paluszek

The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) has just updated its take on the transmission of COVID-19 "to reflect current knowledge about SARS-CoV-2 transmission. Modes of SARS-CoV-2 transmission are now categorized as inhalation of virus, deposition of virus on exposed mucous membranes, and touching mucous membranes with soiled hands contaminated with virus." What does that mean in plain English? Read on for 7 key takeaways from the CDC's new guidance that could save your life—and to ensure your health and the health of others, don't miss these Sure Signs You Had COVID and Didn't Know It.


This is the Primary Way People Get COVID, the CDC Says

Waiter coughing into elbow while serving customers in a restaurant.

"The principal mode by which people are infected with SARS-CoV-2 (the virus that causes COVID-19) is through exposure to respiratory fluids carrying infectious virus," says the CDC. So how might this happen? "Exposure occurs in three principal ways," they say, "(1) inhalation of very fine respiratory droplets and aerosol particles, (2) deposition of respiratory droplets and particles on exposed mucous membranes in the mouth, nose, or eye by direct splashes and sprays, and (3) touching mucous membranes with hands that have been soiled either directly by virus-containing respiratory fluids or indirectly by touching surfaces with virus on them." Keep reading to see where the virus can get you.


The Virus Escapes From Someone Else and Can Remain Suspended in Air For Hours

Coffee Shop Bar Counter

"People release respiratory fluids during exhalation (e.g., quiet breathing, speaking, singing, exercise, coughing, sneezing) in the form of droplets across a spectrum of sizes. These droplets carry virus and transmit infection," says the CDC. "The largest droplets settle out of the air rapidly, within seconds to minutes. The smallest very fine droplets, and aerosol particles formed when these fine droplets rapidly dry, are small enough that they can remain suspended in the air for minutes to hours."


You Can Get COVID From Inhaling

coworking space,office kitchen, business people, young people, latin people,

"Inhalation of air carrying very small fine droplets and aerosol particles that contain infectious virus. Risk of transmission is greatest within three to six feet of an infectious source where the concentration of these very fine droplets and particles is greatest," says the CDC.


You Can Get COVID From Splashes

Woman sneezing.

"Deposition of virus carried in exhaled droplets and particles onto exposed mucous membranes (i.e., 'splashes and sprays', such as being coughed on). Risk of transmission is likewise greatest close to an infectious source where the concentration of these exhaled droplets and particles is greatest," says the CDC.


You Can Get COVID By Touch

Close-up of consumer's women hand signing on a touch screen of credit card sale transaction receipt machine at supper market

"Touching mucous membranes with hands soiled by exhaled respiratory fluids containing virus or from touching inanimate surfaces contaminated with virus," says the CDC.

RELATED: Signs You're Getting One of the "Most Deadly" Cancers


The Virus Can Be Spread From More Than Six Feet Away

frustrated and stressed businessman sitting at the office front a computer and holding head

"With increasing distance from the source, the role of inhalation likewise increases," says the CDC. "Although infections through inhalation at distances greater than six feet from an infectious source are less likely than at closer distances, the phenomenon has been repeatedly documented under certain preventable circumstances. These transmission events have involved the presence of an infectious person exhaling virus indoors for an extended time (more than 15 minutes and in some cases hours) leading to virus concentrations in the air space sufficient to transmit infections to people more than 6 feet away, and in some cases to people who have passed through that space soon after the infectious person left. Per published reports, factors that increase the risk of SARS-CoV-2 infection under these circumstances include:

  • Enclosed spaces with inadequate ventilation or air handling within which the concentration of exhaled respiratory fluids, especially very fine droplets and aerosol particles, can build-up in the air space.
  • Increased exhalation of respiratory fluids if the infectious person is engaged in physical exertion or raises their voice (e.g., exercising, shouting, singing).
  • Prolonged exposure to these conditions, typically more than 15 minutes."


How to Stay Safe Given This New News

Young man wearing two face masks.

"Although how we understand transmission occurs has shifted, the ways to prevent infection with this virus have not," says the CDC. "All prevention measures that CDC recommends remain effective for these forms of transmission." So follow the public health fundamentals and help end this pandemic, no matter where you live—get vaccinated ASAP, wear a face mask that fits snugly and is double layered, don't travel, social distance, avoid large crowds, practice good hand hygiene, and to protect your life and the lives of others, don't visit any of these 35 Places You're Most Likely to Catch COVID.

Alek Korab
Alek Korab is a Co-Founder and Managing Editor of the ETNT Health channel on Eat This, Not That! Read more about Alek
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