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COVID-19 Can Spread This Fast Inside a Restaurant, Study Finds

A new study reveals just how fast the virus can travel under certain conditions.
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New evidence once again points to indoor dining as a risky activity for coronavirus transmission. A recent study from South Korea shows that the new coronavirus can travel long distances—and fast—in certain indoor settings.

Researchers analyzed a pair of transmissions that occurred in a restaurant in June, and their findings were published in the Journal of Korean Medical Science. Two customers were infected with the virus despite sitting 15 feet away from a third diner, who was positive but asymptomatic, according to The Washington Post. The study suggests that the virus can spread in as little as five minutes—a faster time than most maskless diners take to finish their food. (Related: The One Vitamin Doctors Are Urging Everyone to Take Right Now.)

The restaurant where the transmissions took place had neither windows nor a ventilation system. Instead, it had two ceiling air conditioners, which circulated air in the direction of the customers who were infected. The first customer who was infected had no interaction with the asymptomatic diner, who was seated 21 feet away. The two parties only overlapped at the restaurant for about five minutes. The second customer who was infected was seated 16 feet away from the asymptomatic diner, and the pair overlapped at the restaurant for 21 minutes.

While the two individuals contracted the virus, their companions did not. The study's authors wrote that droplet "transmission can occur at a distance greater than 2 [meters] if there is direct air flow from an infected person in an indoor setting."

The new findings show that the coronavirus can reach distances farther than six feet in length through airborne spread. Previous studies have also shown that the virus can travel longer distances in enclosed spaces with air-conditioning, as well as when droplets from an infected person are expelled by coughing.

But this study, in particular, highlights the impact of air flow on transmission. The rest of the diners in the South Korean restaurant avoided contracting the virus, even though some of them spent more time in the restaurant with the asymptotic individual who spread it.

The research suggests that six feet of distance between restaurant tables may not be a sufficient amount of space in enclosed dining rooms. Considering the fact that most states currently allow dine-in operations with capacity restrictions, the latest findings could highlight a need to review distance mandates for indoor dining. The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention currently recommends that diners wear a mask when "less than six feet apart from other people or indoors," as well "as much as possible when not eating."

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Mura Dominko
Mura Dominko is a senior editor at Eat This, Not That!. Read more
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