How COVID-19 Spreads and What This Means for Your Business

Working from the office can be low risk

Michael Gao, MD
CEO and Medical Director
November 16, 2020

There have been many studies and articles published about how someone can get exposed to COVID-19. While we now have a better understanding of how the virus spreads, not everyone is up-to-date on the latest research.

It’s important for companies to understand how COVID-19 spreads so they can keep employees safe. Spending too much time and resources on safeguards that have minimal impact can prevent a business from investing in areas that matter. Likewise, overestimating the risk of in-office transmission can result in lost productivity.

The most recent research available suggests that COVID-19 spreads from person-to-person in three main ways:

1. Droplet: large and small respiratory droplets coated with the virus that fall to the floor usually before they can travel six feet

2. Airborne: small droplets and particles coated with the virus that are suspended in the air for long periods of time and longer distances than with droplet transmission

3. Contact: a surface that has been contaminated with virus particles

Droplet and Airborne Transmission: COVID-19 Spread Through Particles in the Air

Based on the latest evidence and research, the primary way someone can get infected with the virus is through virus particles spread through the air. This includes both droplet transmission and airborne transmission.

Initial recommendations focused only on droplet transmission as a potential way to get infected. With droplet transmission, both large and small droplets contaminated with the virus get spread through sneezing, coughing and talking. A person standing near someone with COVID-19 can “catch” the virus from the droplets. But, as these droplets fall to the floor quickly, someone standing more than six feet away is unlikely to “catch” the virus from these droplets.

In aerosol transmission, COVID-19 spreads through particles and small droplets suspended in the air. This transmission can happen over longer distances and large periods of time. If an infected person leaves behind aerosols infected with the virus when they leave a room, someone else can enter the same room later and still get infected.

Airborne transmission through aerosols was a missing piece of the puzzle when the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention(CDC) made its initial COVID-19 safety recommendations. The CDC has since published updated information about airborne transmission that talks about aerosols.  

Scientific journal The Lancet recently published an editorial reflecting updated information about COVID-19 transmission, which has far-reaching implications for curbing virus transmissions. It included aerosol transmission as one of the main pathways for virus spread, which has far-reaching public health implications, including implications for preventative measures in the office environment.

Contact Transmission: COVID-19 Spread Through Touching Infected Surfaces

Initial studies reported that COVID-19 can survive on some surfaces up to three days, prompting a rush to disinfect everything that may transmit the virus. This caused shortages of disinfecting supplies as people focused on disinfecting every surface from groceries to doorknobs. Businesses stepped up cleaning protocols and hired extra staff to ensure every surface was disinfected regularly.  

One study in a hospital environment showed most surfaces were contaminated, including air conditioning vents and bed rails. However, the study did not show if the contaminated surface had enough viral particles to infect someone who touches it. Other studies showed the virus can live for several days on various surfaces ranging from aluminum to cardboard. Yet these experiments used much larger quantities of virus compared to what happens in real life.

Thus, at this point, it appears that the risk of COVID-19 transmission from a surface is still much less likely than through droplets or aerosol transmission. Contact-based transmission would likely require that an infected person coughs or sneezes on a surface, and someone else touches the same surface within one to two hours. This means in most cases, the risk of contracting the virus through contact with a surface is low.

What Does This Mean for Businesses?

Companies looking to keep their employees and customers safe can do so by focusing, first and foremost, on the most likely ways a person can get infected with COVID-19. Having the right protocols in place can mean keeping everyone safe while returning to more regular business operations.

Certain safety measures carry more weight than others, and figuring out what gets meaningful results will help a business stand out from the competition. While cleansing frequently touched surfaces is important, it doesn’t have the same impact as having customers and employees wear masks. Masks can help prevent the spread of the virus through droplets and aerosols – the two main ways for a person to get infected.

As a business, it’s important to stay on top of the latest research about COVID-19, but you don’t have to do it alone. This is where Haven Diagnostics can help. We can look at your business model, your physical business location(s), your policies, employee job descriptions and other variables and help you come up with a safe way to reopen and get back to the office.

We can take the guesswork out of when it’s safe for your employees to get back to the office and what policies will make the biggest difference. Haven Diagnostics’ proprietary models, run by our expert team led by Dr. Michael Gao, will analyze your business’s physical environment and risks, and make recommendations on the optimal return-to-office plan.

Schedule a demo today to learn how Haven Diagnostics can be your partner for a safe return to the office.