COVID variants are getting more airborne, meaning — more contagious

Credit: CBSNews
Credit: CBSNews

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A new study finds COVID-19 variants are getting more airborne than their predecessors, CBS Baltimore reports.

“The virus is evolving to get better at airborne spread; it’s getting out into the air better,” Dr. Donald Milton, one of the researchers who conducted the study at the University of Maryland’s School of Public Health, told the station.

The researchers tested 49 infected people and found that variants are spreading better.

“People sit with a cone in front of their face that is collecting all of the air coming from around their head,” Dr. Milton explained. The cone, called the Gesundheit TWO, measures how much virus is in their breath.

The test was conducted with people’s masks on and with their masks off. And the results show that those with a variant were breathing out more virus.

“Eighteen times more in the air,” Milton pointed out.

The study involved the Alpha variant, which was the dominant one when the research was conducted. Alpha was more contagious than the original form of COVID-19 but less contagious than the Delta variant that’s so common today.

Anne Simon was among those tested and said she was shocked at how much COVID was coming out of her.

She said she caught COVID while outside at her farm sitting next to someone who was infected.

“We eat outside occasionally together and little did we know one Sunday afternoon, one of us had COVID,” she said.

Simon was tested for the study within days of exhibiting symptoms.

“Without a mask, just breathing normally, talking softly, they were able to measure a substantial amount of COVID on droplets,” said Simon.

He added that, as the virus gets better at getting into the air, the public needs to be better about keeping it out of the air.

Though the study revealed that masks cut down the spread of the virus by half, with variants becoming more airborne, masks should be worn more tightly around the face, Milton said.

Toward that end, N-95 masks are preferred because surgical masks have room around your face for the virus to get in and out, Milton noted.

He also recommends opening windows in the house to allow for more ventilation and perhaps purchasing air purifiers.

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