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VERIFY: Can a sneeze travel 27 feet?

Experts say a sneeze can spray droplets as far as 27 feet away and advise practicing good hygiene and wearing masks.

A new video showing how far a sneeze can travel is raising questions about social distancing. A researcher at MIT says sneeze particles can spread up to 27 feet.

The slow-motion video is graphic. But, according to the researcher behind it, it's an accurate look at what happens when someone sneezes, spraying droplets as far as 27 feet away.

Originally posted by the Journal of the American Medical Association, the video, and corresponding article have gone viral.

So, is it possible for a sneeze to travel 27 feet?

Yes.

News 8 spoke with Doctor Jyotu Sandhu with Sharp Rees-Stealy. He said environmental conditions play a key role.

"If it's warm or moist, they carry these droplets a lot further and the droplets can be viable for a lot longer," he said.

Researchers in Finland found similar results, releasing a separate video showing how far particles can travel in a grocery store, saying they can stick around for several minutes.

Can particles really stay in the air for several minutes?

According to Dr. Sandhu, yes.

"Someone may have coughed or sneezed in that vicinity five or 10 minutes before you got there or maybe in the aisle over and now with the ventilation system, is carrying that to your aisle or other aisles," he said. 

But, Sandhu said it's more likely the aerosol particles stick around even longer, and studies suggest COVID-19 is a droplet infection.

Should we be social distancing more than six feet?

That depends.

Sandhu says if you're in a confined space with several people around, it's a good idea. Even better though, he said to continue to practice good hygiene, and wear a mask. It may not protect against everything but is better than nothing at all.

"To quantify how much protection you're getting is a little difficult, but you are definitely mitigating and reducing your risk with masks," Sandhu said.

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View all News 8 coverage of coronavirus / COVID-19  
 
News 8 has joined forces with The San Diego Foundation to raise immediate, emergency funds for our most vulnerable neighbors in need. Here is how you can help.  

We also have a Frequently Asked Questions page we will continue updating with the latest information and reports.  

Click here to watch "Facts Not Fear," a News 8 Special on coronavirus from March 26, 2020. 

BACKGROUND  

According to the CDC, coronavirus (COVID-19) is a family of viruses that is spreadable from person to person. Coronavirus is believed to have been first detected in a seafood market in Wuhan, China in December 2019. If someone is sick with coronavirus, the symptoms they may show include mild to severe respiratory illness, cough, and difficulty breathing.  

Currently, there is no vaccine, however, the CDC suggests the following precautions, as with any other respiratory illness:  

Know how it spreads 

  • There is no vaccine  

  • The best way to prevent illness is to avoid being exposed to the virus 

  • It is thought to spread mainly from person-person between people in close contact 

  • And believed to be spread by respiratory droplets produced when an infected person coughs or sneezes 

Protect yourself 

  • Wash your hands with soap and water for a minimum of 20 seconds 

  • If soap and water aren't available, use hand sanitizer that contains at least 60% alcohol 

  • Avoid touching your eyes, nose, and mouth 

  • Avoid close contact with people who are sick 

  • Put distance between yourselves and others 

Protect others 

  • Stay home when you are sick 

  • Wear a facemask if you are sick 

  • Cover your cough or sneeze with a tissue, then throw the tissue in the trash 

  • If you don't have tissue, cough or sneeze into the inside of your elbow 

  • Immediately wash your hands after coughing and sneezing  

  • Clean and disinfect frequently touched objects and surfaces using a regular household cleaning spray or wipe 

You can find information on disinfecting and cleaning on the CDC's How to Protect Yourself page. 

The California Department of Public Health has issued guidance on the use of cloth face coverings to protect against the spread of the novel coronavirus COVID-19.  

The County of San Diego has made face coverings mandatory for those working with the public including grocery stores, pharmacies, gas stations, convenience stores, and similar businesses. 

While officials say these face coverings are not a substitute for practices like social distancing and handwashing, there is evidence to suggest that the use of cloth face coverings by the public during a pandemic could help reduce disease transmission. Officials do not recommend the public use N-95 or surgical masks which are needed by health care workers and first responders.