National Post (National Edition)

HOW IT SPREADS

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Toilet paper, paper towels and hand sanitizer are thankfully all in stock right now.

But at the beginning of the pandemic in March, people were panic-buying cleaning supplies in bulk, disposable gloves were an asset, and masks weren't an accepted practice until early July.

Now, almost a year into the pandemic, evidence is surface contaminat­ion isn't the main concern — it's transmissi­on through respirator­y droplets and aerosols.

“The virus can spread from an infected person's mouth or nose in small liquid particles when they cough, sneeze, speak, sing or breathe heavily. These liquid particles are different sizes, ranging from larger `respirator­y droplets' to smaller `aerosols,' says the WHO.

COVID-19 can live on a surface for only a few hours or days. But unless you touch that surface then touch your mouth, nose or eyes, you should be in the clear.

Caroline Colijn, a Canada 150 research chair in mathematic­s for evolution, infection and public health, said that handwashin­g is always necessary, but it won't stop the virus from spreading through the air.

According to a study in ScienceMag, viruses in droplets “can be sprayed like tiny cannonball­s onto nearby individual­s” and viruses in aerosols can stay in the air for hours.

Both physical distancing and masks can reduce exposure to virus droplets and aerosols. They're closely associated. As an article in the Nature Journal puts it: “Masks work, but they are not infallible. And, therefore, keep your distance.”

The WHO recommends staying at least one metre away from people, even if they do not appear to be sick, and to avoid crowded places and events, poorly ventilated indoor locations and prolonged contact with others.

The U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention has also determined which masks actually block infectious particles and sadly, that cute and colourful hand-knitted mask might not be so effective. That is why physical distancing remains one of our best tools to stop the spread.

Distancing is one of the things we know works best, Colijn said. “Yes, the vaccine is going to work but we can't vaccinate everyone today.”

So, after a year of living with COVID-19, there is one thing we do know for certain — stay apart to stay safe.

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