COVID-19 study from University of Chicago looks at how far virus travels through air

CHICAGO (WLS) -- In an effort to protect frontline healthcare workers, a study at the University of Chicago is trying to answer questions about how far the new coronavirus travels through the air.

"The whole goal is to find out something about the disease process, how does this process interact with our body, how does it interact with the environment such that we can protect the people at the highest risk," said Dr. Jayant Pinto, University of Chicago Medicine.

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Researchers have set up small monitors on COVID-19 patients' rooms to measure viral material in hopes of learning about the distance those particles travel. The six-foot rule used in social distancing guidance is based on decades-old studies for other airborne diseases like tuberculosis.

"We are going to do sampling at different distances so we can say, in the worst case scenario in the ICU, what distance can we find more virus in the air, what distance less in the air," Pinto explained.

The study also measures how infectious the virus is as it travels through the air.

"Is it the patients that are very sick early in the disease? Does that virus in the air go down with time or are there certain patients that put out more virus?" Pinto said.

And does the virus in the air correlate with the amount of virus in a patient's nose or mouth? These are all questions Pinto and his team hope to answer and use on a widespread scale that could impact everything from social distancing guidelines to guidelines for workplaces and schools.

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Early results are expected by the end of July. By the time the study is complete, doctors hope to work with up to 20 patients.
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