How Does COVID-19 Spread?

Just how does COVID-19 spread? There is a lot of conflicting and often contradictory information out there about the proliferation of the coronavirus, so it can be a tad bit confusing. Let’s break down what the experts are saying!

Here’s the harsh reality: we are still learning how the virus spreads, and nothing is concrete! But research is being done all the time, and we’re learning more and more about how this virus is transmitted. Let’s examine first the most clear cut form of COVID-19 transmission.

Person-To-Person Transmission

How does COVID-19 spread?

Let’s start with the obvious. It is apparent by now to everyone (I hope…) that the virus is spread by some form of human to human contact. Digging deeper, there are actually 2 distinct categories of transmission when analyzing the way in which a virus spread among human beings: Limited Transmission or Sustained Transmission.

Limited Transmission applies when a virus can spread from one person to another, and then typically dies there; the virus is only likely to spread a single time and will be contained to a small group of people.

Sustained Transmission, however, occurs when a virus spreads from one person to another, and then another, and another…and so on. The COVID-19 Pandemic falls into the second category: observations have shown that it is transmitting very sustainably between humans. Amazingly, research indicates that every person who has COVID will, on average, spread it to 2-3 other people!

The two primary forms of person-to-person transmission are: Droplets/Aerosols, and Airborne Transmission.

Droplets/Aerosols refers to the times when an infected person sneezes, coughs, or perhaps pronounces their “Ts” a bit too zealously (spits), and droplets or tiny particles (aerosols) carry the virus into the air. Anyone who is within 6 feet of that person can breathe it into their lungs. Very small droplets can remain suspended in the air for long periods of time, inflating the risk of the spread of the virus. More studies are needed to determine just how well the virus spreads in this way, but it is best not to take too many chances.

Airborne transmission refers to the phenomenon wherein recent research indicates that the virus can survive in the air for about 3 hours. Of course, the virus could theoretically spread if an infected person breathes out and someone else breaths it directly into their lungs later on. This form of transmission is not understood as well; but the potential ramifications are startling! Social distancing would not be able to prevent this type of transmission, since the virus could potentially survive in the air for a very long period of time.

Let’s see what some of the largest health organizations are saying about how the coronavirus is spread.

What the FDA and CDC Say About the Spread of COVID

What do the experts think?

The FDA maintains that the virus is thought to spread through “close contact from person-to-person.” But they admit that we are still learning all of the different ways it spreads and the severity of the illness that it can cause.

The CDC, however, gets a bit more specific with their pronouncement of how COVID-19 spreads. They say that it is thought to primarily spread through respiratory droplets produced when an infected person coughs, sneezes, or talks. These droplets can land in the mouths or noses of people who are nearby or possibly be inhaled into the lungs. Hence, we have social distancing orders as well as mandates to wear a face mask. So far, it looks like COVID-19 spreads more easily than influenza, but not quite as rapidly as measles, which is considered to be highly contagious.

Asymptomatic Transmission

The CDC also notes that some people without symptoms may be able to spread the virus. That’s why it’s so important to self-quarantine if you may have been exposed! It is possible that you could not get sick at all, and still have the virus. You could unknowingly spread it to one of the vulnerable members of society, and that’s not something any of us want to do.

Surface Transmission of COVID-19

Surface transmission of coronavirus

In addition to person-to-person contact, it is possible that the virus can spread when touching one’s face or mouth after coming into contact with a surface that contained the virus. For example, the CDC says:

It may be possible that a person can get COVID-19 by touching a surface or object that has the virus on it and then touching their own mouth, nose, or possibly their eyes. This is not thought to be the main way the virus spreads, but we are still learning more about how this virus spreads.

Spooky! This is just one reason it is so important to use hand sanitizer regularly after being in public and touching foreign objects or surfaces. Research is still uncertain as to just how long the virus can survive on any given surface. Right now, the best we can say is that it may be anywhere from a few hours to a few days or more.

Does COVID-19 Spread Between Pets and Their Owners?

pet transmission of covid-19

Luckily, the virus does not appear to spread from animals to humans very easily. However, the CDC is aware of a few cases worldwide where the virus has been spread from a pet owner to their pet.

Since dogs and cats can apparently get the coronavirus from people, it is recommended to take similar precautions with your pets as you do yourself. Don’t allow your pet to interact with strangers too much, walk your dogs with a leash at least 6 feet from others, and avoid large public gatherings. Just please, don’t put a face mask on your pet!

Wrap It Up

New research is constantly being done to better understand this still relatively new disease and how it spreads. Keep your eye on the news for breaking developments, as well as the CDC website for updates to their safety guidelines.

And remember, the best ways to protect yourself are to wash and sanitize your hands regularly, socially distance whenever possible, and cover your face in public settings.

Many thanks for reading!

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1 comment

  • WOW! You have actually given a very accurate and excellent overview of the way this particular virus is transmitted, I am a retired nurse, I worked as an Infection control nurse in both an acute care hospital and for a long term care corporation. I also worked with several medical organizations on epidemics in other countries. people that I know and actually respect who have little to no medical backgrounds are not only refusing to wear masks they are all ready circulating petitions to refuse to be vaccinated before a vaccine is even out of early-stage clinical trials. My friends need to read your blog.

    Sheila K Malone

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