Ask An Expert: Smaller Shared Spaces Pose COVID-19 Risk

Excerpts and edited notes for this blog were referenced from an “Ask An Expert” KCBS radio station 740 FM segment on November 11th, 2020 at 9:20 AM hosted by Stan Bunger. This blog is presented for viewers to validate, accept and/or decline its content and findings on their own.

Ask An Expert

A new study published in the journal Nature found that venues like stores, restaurants and gyms are hot spots for COVID-19 spread.

Dr. Shelly Miller, Professor of Mechanical Engineering at the University of Colorado, Boulder, said indoor ventilation plays a large role in coronavirus risk.

“It’s really clear from outbreak information, and from watching the pandemic, that there are lots of opportunities to spread the virus indoors, where you have your mask off and you’re socializing,” Miller said. “But if you layer on additional ventilation and reduced occupancy with social distancing and mask wearing and less time indoors. It all adds up to a much lower risk.”

Miller said that at gyms, she does not see a high risk of COVID-19 transmission in shared shower spaces, but she said locker rooms pose a higher threat for virus spread.

“The locker rooms are crowded and everyone’s talking and doing their thing, especially in sports facilities,” Miller said. “So I think being really careful in how you occupy and use a locker room is important.”

With grocery shopping, Miller said it depends on how close you are to another person or people. She said shoppers and employees who come within six feet of each other, like when checking out at the cash register, may have a higher chance of spreading the virus. However, virus transmission is not as likely when just walking past people in and around the supermarket aisles.

“That is what we call long-range transport,” Miller said. “The ventilation in the systems in those big box stores with high ceilings, I think it’s lower risk from that activity. Although the levels in the community are going up so quickly that I am starting to think I may not spend time in a grocery store and get my groceries delivered again.”

And as the Thanksgiving holiday approaches, Miller said that such celebrations should be socially distanced and outside if possible, especially if people from multiple households are present.