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COVID questions: aerosol transmission, small business, managing stress

October 1, 2020 By Kristina LeVan

Editor’s note: We will be publishing answers to questions about COVID-19 and the pandemic each week in this COVID questions column. If you have a question, please email it to covid19update@uc.wisc.edu.

Q: Aerosol transmission has been featured in the news more prominently the past few days. Would you be able to provide a brief explanation about aerosol transmission (what is it)? And are there any precautions we can take to protect ourselves from aerosol transmission of COVID-19?

A: Aerosol transmission is the process in which a susceptible person inhales and is infected by aerosol particles that carry a pathogen. In this process, respiratory aerosol particles are generated during breathing, talking, or coughing by an infected individual. The size of respiratory aerosol particles that may contain a virus (in this case SARS-CoV-2) spans from less than one micrometer to tens of micrometers in diameter, much larger than the naked virus yet much smaller than the ballistic droplets that are visible during a violent cough or sneeze. Many of these aerosol particles are small enough that they are carried by air currents within a room, thus having the potential to infect individuals that are beyond the nominal 6 foot distance.

To date, there have been numerous examples of aerosol transmission of SARS-CoV-2. The majority of these events have taken place in poorly ventilated indoor spaces, where face masks were not used. Aerosol transmission of SARS-CoV-2 does not necessitate that the virus is as contagious as other viruses that are spread via this pathway (e.g., measles), but it does highlight that certain precautions are important to reduce risk. To reduce the risk of aerosol transmission, it is critical that people wear face masks, maintain appropriate physical distancing (as aerosol concentrations are largest near the source), and to the extent possible, limit time spent in indoor environments with multiple occupancy. Given that aerosol particles can accumulate in poorly ventilated spaces, it is also critical that indoor environments maintain high levels of clean air ventilation.

– Timothy Bertram, Professor, Chemistry; Affiliate Professor Atmospheric and Oceanic Sciences; Environmental Chemistry and Technology

Q: How is COVID-19 impacting small businesses?

A: The effect of COVID-19 on small businesses varies based on the nature of the industry. When the pandemic was declared and Wisconsin schools closed, followed closely by the Governor’s Safer at Home order, the economy partially shut down resulting in significant loss of jobs and consumer spending. The economic impact was driven in part by public health policy actions, but mostly by consumer fear of COVID-19. Officials knew little about the virus and people reacted with an abundance of caution. As more information about COVID-19 has become available, the level of fear has started to decline, and people are adjusting and returning to more normal economic behaviors.

Compared to the worst of the pandemic (April 2020), many small businesses are starting to see the proverbial light at the end of the tunnel. As we learn to live with COVID-19 many businesses are slowly seeing a return to normal, but with unique conditions (e.g., mask wearing and social distancing). This positive outlook varies greatly by the industry in which the business operates. States and/or regions that are more heavily dependent on the arts, tourism, recreation, entertainment, and restaurants are not as well positioned to recover from the economic impacts of the pandemic as those that are more manufacturing oriented. Industries that can have their workforce shift to telecommuting have fared better during the pandemic. Wisconsin appears to have been able to benefit from these differences in economic structure. While many tourism-dependent areas may be more at-risk, as a whole, Wisconsin appears to have a slight advantage over other states.

– Steven Deller, Professor and Community Development Specialist, Agricultural and Applied Economics.

Q: What are some tips for managing the stress brought on by the pandemic? 

A: There are a few things we can do. The first is recognizing what we can’t control and we can’t predict what’s going on and trying to do so is just going to make it feel more stressful. The second is to try and exert control over the smaller things you can control at home, so having a regular routine can be helpful for many people. Also, continuing to reach out and receive social support as well as give social support to other people even thought we might not be able to be in the same physical place with them. We can still communicate with others. We have lots of technology for us to do so. And continuing to maintain the relationships we have is important.

– Karen Smith, Postdoctoral Scholar in the UW–Madison Department of Psychology. Hear more stress-reducing tips from Karen Smith this Badger Talks interview.

See more answers to COVID questions here, herehereherehereherehereherehere and here. Also, visit our COVID-19 impact site.