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As Florida fully implements Phase 1, new droplet study raises concerns

Study finds COVID-19 droplets can hang in air between eight to 14 minutes.

TAMPA, Fla. — Talk about tough timing. Just as Florida fully moves into full phase one, a new study is raising questions about whether the safety precautions we’re taking are enough to keep us all safe.

The information, recently published in the Journal of the National Academy of Sciences, says just talking produces COVID-19 droplets that can hang in the air between eight and 14 minutes.

The information comes just as Florida restaurants and retail increase capacity to 50 percent, hair and nail salons enter their second week, and gyms now open its doors for the first time in months.

“What it points out,” said Patty Olinger, Dir. Of the Bio-risk Advisory Council, “is that this is such a novel and new virus that we’re still learning things.”

Olinger says the new research shows COVID-19 droplets generated by asymptomatic patients - simply talking - can linger in the air far longer than some had previously suggested.

The study also found that medical-grade N-95 masks are effective in blocking the size of the particles created by speaking.

“One thing that we don’t know is what the viral infectious dose is right now. That’s one thing they’re still trying to figure out is how many viral particles are required for somebody to become infected. And that, I think it’s going to be a critical piece of the puzzle as we go forward,” said Olinger.

It’s another reason, say experts, why the 15-minute break between hair and nail customers or people using gym equipment might be so important, by giving those droplets an opportunity to dissipate in addition to wiping down surfaces and sterilizing equipment.

“We are going to be closing down about every hour and a half, we will close our building down,” said YMCA Suncoast CEO Scott Goyer, “All of our members will leave, we will clean the building, and then we will re-open it.”

Previous studies showed how quickly a cough or sneeze can lead to COVID-19 spreading.

But this latest info indicates asymptomatic carriers, just speaking nearby, can increase the risk to others.

“You know, it’s for everybody's safety, so of course it’s a good thing,” said Danielle Basch, who operates a Supercuts location in South Tampa.

Basch says they already have stylists standing at least six feet apart and use that 15 minutes between clients to sterilize their workstations.

The new research, she says, makes wearing masks a must for both stylists and customers.

“Some people have been willing to comply because it’s like they really want a haircut. Some people just, you know don’t wanna do it. But for the people who don’t wanna do it, we just won’t be able to service them,” said Basch.

The study also shows with each passing minute, the droplets themselves seem to shrink through evaporation.

So, while just talking creates possible contaminants, wearing a mask, and taking that mandatory break between customers, said Olinger, could help minimize the impact.

“You may not really want to do it. But it’s so simple,” said Olinger. “And if that’s the type of thing that’s going to help us re-open, it’s not that tough.”

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