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Can the coronavirus spread through the air?

Health

AP Illustration/Peter Hamlin;
By The Associated Press

Can the coronavirus spread through the air?
Yes, it’s possible.

The World Health Organization recently acknowledged the possibility that COVID-19 might be spread in the air under certain conditions.

Recent COVID-19 outbreaks in crowded indoor settings — restaurants, nightclubs and choir practices — suggest the virus can hang around in the air long enough to potentially infect others if social distancing measures are not strictly enforced.

Experts say the lack of ventilation in these situations is thought to have contributed to spread, and might have allowed the virus to linger in the air longer than normal.

In a report published in May, researchers found that talking produced respiratory droplets that could remain in the air in a closed environment for about eight to 14 minutes.

The WHO says those most at risk from airborne spread are doctors and nurses who perform specialized procedures such as inserting a breathing tube or putting patients on a ventilator. Medical authorities recommend the use of protective masks and other equipment when doing such procedures.

Scientists maintain it’s far less risky to be outside than indoors because virus droplets disperse in the fresh air, reducing the chances of COVID-19 transmission.

Can I get COVID-19 through my eyes or ears?
It’s possible through the eyes, but not likely through the ears.

As with the nose and mouth, doctors say the eyes may be a route of infection if someone with the virus coughs or sneezes nearby. Infection is also possible when rubbing your eyes with hands that have been exposed to the virus.

Tears from an infected person could also spread the virus.

Frequent hand washing, social distancing and the use of facial coverings in public are ways to keep the virus from spreading, including through the eyes.

Glasses may also offer added protection, according to the American Academy of Ophthalmology. Health care workers are advised to use safety goggles when treating potentially infected patients.

Ears, on the other hand, are not believed to be a route of COVID-19 infection, according to the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.

The skin in the outer ear canal is more like regular skin, unlike the tissue in the mouth, nose and sinuses. That creates a barrier that makes it difficult for the virus to enter, according to Dr. Benjamin Bleier at Massachusetts Eye and Ear in Boston.

Is it safe to go to the gym during the coronavirus pandemic?
It depends on where you live and the precautions you and the gym take.

If cases of COVID-19 are poorly controlled where you live, experts say it’s best to stay away. But if you live in an area where the spread is being contained, there are ways to minimize risk when going for a workout.

To ensure everyone stays at least 6 feet apart, gyms should take steps such as moving machines, blocking off areas and limiting the number of people allowed inside, says Dr. Marybeth Sexton, an assistant professor of infectious diseases at Emory University.

How risky is flying during the coronavirus pandemic?
Flying can increase your risk of exposure to infection, but airlines are taking some precautions and you can too.

Air travel means spending time in security lines and airport terminals, which puts you into close contact with other people. As travel slowly recovers, planes are becoming more crowded, which means you will likely sit close to other people, often for hours, which raises your risk.

Once on a plane, most viruses and other germs don’t spread easily because of the way air circulates, according to the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. Airlines also say they are focusing on sanitizing the hard surfaces that passengers commonly touch.

Some airlines like Alaska, Delta, JetBlue and Southwest are blocking middle seats or limiting capacity. But even if every middle seat is empty you will likely be closer than the recommended distance of 6 feet to another passenger now that planes are getting fuller.

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The AP is answering your questions about the coronavirus in this series. Submit them at: FactCheck@AP.org.