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The #1 Place You're Most Likely to Catch Coronavirus

It may be closer to home than you realize.
woman cough sneeze in elbow

You may be concerned about catching COVID-19 now that your city is reopening, but there's one place that may be even more dangerous than the sidewalk or the local park, and it's likely the #1 place where you'll catch COVID-19. Where could that be?

"We know most people get infected in their own home," reveals Erin Bromage, Ph.D., an Associate Professor of Biology at the University of Massachusetts Dartmouth. How so? "The general theme of what I can see is, lots of people together in an enclosed environment with poor airflow and usually some sort of talking or singing involved leads to lots of people in that environment getting infected," he said in an interview with ABC News.

Bromage's blog post—"The Risks – Know Them – Avoid Them"—went viral last month for describing exactly how a virus circulates. He maintains that indoor spaces—be it at home, a birthday party, a house of worship or in a prison—are extremely conducive to coronavirus spread. 

"You've got a lot of people in an enclosed space with lots of huffing, puffing, or yelling, which just led to large outbreak events," Bromage told ABC News, adding in his blog post: "A household member contracts the virus in the community and brings it into the house where sustained contact between household members leads to infection."

How the Virus Enters Your Home

If a person is infected with the virus, he or she can transmit it rather easily. "When we, exhale, talk, laugh, cough, or sneeze, we expel respiratory secretions into the air," explains Dr. Deborah Lee, a medical writer at Dr Fox Online Pharmacy. "The smaller droplets are known as aerosols."

Aerosols are a big problem in the spread of all infectious diseases—especially in your home. "COVID-19 was detected for example in 63.2% aerosol samples taken (more than 6 feet away) from rooms housing an infected patient," says Dr. Lee, "and in 66.7% of aerosol samples taken from outside the bedroom door."

Spread outside, these droplets have a better chance of dissipating. But indoors, less so: "Droplets cannot travel more than a distance of six feet," says Dr. Lee, "after which they become diluted, and dissipate in the atmosphere. However, when you cough or sneeze you create a 'gas cloud' which can travel much further—up to 8 meters." (Indeed, Bromage estimates that a single sneeze can release 30,000 droplets going up to 200 miles per hour.)

This might explain why some cities are seeing outbreaks despite stay-at-home orders. The spread is happening indoors. New York, for example, found that 66% of new hospitalizations in mid-May for COVID-19 were people who had been staying home, in a survey of about 1,300 new patients. "This is a surprise: Overwhelmingly, the people were at home," Gov. Andrew Cuomo said at a press conference. "We thought maybe they were taking public transportation, and we've taken special precautions on public transportation, but actually no, because these people were literally at home."

How to Reduce Your Risk

As your city reopens, continue to wash your hands for 20 seconds after coming in contact with high touch surfaces; practice social distancing and stand six feet away from other people; wear a face mask, especially where social distancing is not possible; and keep your home disinfected, cleaning it frequently. And don't be afraid of going outdoors if you practice social distancing.

"The risk of transmission is greatly reduced by being outdoors," says Dr. Lee. "Being in the open air, the respiratory droplets/aerosols become diluted and rapidly dissipate. However, as soon as you are in an enclosed space, such as entering someone's home, the chance of becoming infected increases. This underpins the government's advice to stay at home and not to mix households."

As Cuomo said at that press conference: "Much of this comes down to what you do to protect yourself." And to get through this pandemic at your healthiest, don't miss these Things You Should Never Do During the Coronavirus Pandemic.

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