Story at a glance

  • Researchers asked people to repeat phrases and used the lasers to measure the size and count of droplets produced when they spoke.
  • Scientists estimate that one minute of loud speaking can produce more than 1,000 virus-containing droplets that could linger in the air for several minutes before disappearing.
  • The droplets could stay in the air for up to 14 minutes.

A new study claims droplets generated when a person speaks may be enough to spread the coronavirus and can linger in the air for eight to 14 minutes. 

Researchers behind the study used lasers to count the number of small respiratory droplets emitted through human speech, and said there’s “substantial probability that normal speaking causes airborne virus transmission” in confined spaces. 

“Speech droplets generated by asymptomatic carriers of severe acute respiratory syndrome coronavirus 2 (SARS-CoV-2) are increasingly considered to be a likely mode of disease transmission,” the study published in the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences said. “Highly sensitive laser light scattering observations have revealed that loud speech can emit thousands of oral fluid droplets per second.”

Researchers asked people to repeat phrases and used the lasers to measure the size and count of droplets produced when they spoke. Scientists estimate that one minute of loud speaking can produce more than 1,000 virus-containing droplets that could linger in the air for several minutes before disappearing and are “eminently capable” of spreading the virus in confined areas. 


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The study notes that while it’s long been recognized respiratory viruses are transmitted by larger droplets generated by coughing or sneezing, it’s less widely known that normal speaking also generates thousands of oral fluid droplets. 

The findings come after Harvey Fineberg, chairman of the National Academy of Sciences’ Standing Committee on Emerging Infectious Diseases and 21st Century Health Threats, told the White House in a letter last month that available research “supports the possibility that [coronavirus] could be spread via bioaerosols generated directly by patient exhalation.”

The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) says that COVID-19 spreads primarily through coughs and sneezes, as the droplets can land in the mouths or noses of people who are nearby, or could possibly be inhaled into the lungs. 

The CDC advises people to wear cloth face coverings when leaving their homes as they can help block droplets that may contain germs. While the covering doesn’t protect you from becoming infected, it could help stop the spread of the virus from those who are asymptomatic.


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Published on May 14, 2020