Q: How far can a sneeze spread COVID-19?
A: Pretty far. One study conducted by a fluid dynamics researcher at Massachusetts Institute of Technology found that pathogen-carrying droplets are transmitted 23 to 27 feet during a typical sneeze.
In an article entitled "Turbulent Gas Clouds and Respiratory Pathogen Emissions," the researcher, Dr. Lydia Bourouiba, writes that "pathogen-bearing droplets are propelled much farther (during a sneeze) than if they were emitted in isolation without a turbulent puff cloud trapping and carrying them forward."
This has implications for how we should think about the spread of COVID-19, Dr. Bourouiba writes. Though the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention recommending keeping six feet of distance to reduce transmission of the virus, sneezing can potentially spread the virus much further.
This is one reason it is important for health care workers to wear personal protective equipment at all times when in close proximity to a potentially infected patient.
During a sneeze, droplets can be exhaled at 33 to 100 feet per second, according to Bourouiba's findings. As a result, masks that can prevent droplets from spreading even during a high-velocity sneeze, or, as Bourouiba puts it, a "high-momentum gas cloud emission," will be more effective at preventing the virus from spreading.