Is coronavirus airborne? All your questions about how COVID-19 is spread, answered by experts.


Around the world, cases of Novel coronavirus, now officially known as COVID-19, continue to rise.

At the time of publishing, over 5,700 people have died from the virus worldwide, while over 153,000 infections have been confirmed in countries across the world.

In Australia, the number of confirmed cases of COVID-19 has risen to over 300, while four people have died from the virus.

Watch: Mamamia’s Claire Murphy breaks down your most asked questions about COVID-19. Post continues below. 

Video by Mamamia

Across the world, governments are implementing changes to help prevent the spread of the virus, which has now been declared a pandemic.

In Australia, new measures have been put in place to prevent the virus from spreading.

The federal government has imposed a self-isolation requirement on all international arrivals to Australia and non-essential gatherings of more than 500 people have been banned.

But while changes have been put in place, there are still a lot of questions around how the virus spreads.

Hoping to quell the spread of disinformation, here’s everything you need to know about how the virus spreads, and what we can do to prevent it from spreading further.


How is COVID-19 spread?

According to the Centers of Disease Control and Prevention, the main method of transmission of the coronavirus is person-to-person contact.

If a person with COVID-19 sneezes or coughs, they might spray you with droplets from their nose or mouth.

Similarly, if a person with COVID-19 who has touched their mouth or nose shakes your hand, they could transfer the virus to your hand. Then, if you touch your own mouth or nose without washing your hand first, you may be at risk of becoming infected.

Speaking to Mamamia’s daily news podcast, The Quicky, infectious disease specialist Dr Sanjaya Sanananyaka from the Australian National University explained how the virus spreads.

Mamamia’s daily news podcast, The Quicky, answers all your questions about COVID-19. Post continues below.

“It spreads mainly by droplets, so particularly when people cough or sneeze, droplets of mucus containing virus particles drop about one metre in front of that person,” he explained.

“They can fall onto surfaces that people touch with their hands and then they can touch their face and get infected. Or, of course, the infected person coughs or sneezes into their hand and someone else shakes their hand and then they can get infected that way.”

As of this week, the coronavirus is currently not considered to be an airborne virus, like chickenpox or measles.

“It’s a virus that travels in droplets. This is very good news. With an airborne virus, one person could infect the whole room,” Luis Ostrosky, a professor and vice chairman of internal medicine at McGovern Medical School in Houston, Texas said.


How long does COVID-19 live on surfaces?

It is unclear how long the coronavirus can survive on surfaces. The time span could range from several hours to several days.

Researchers at the National Institutes of Health, Princeton, and the University of California in Los Angeles, have tested the survival of the virus by exposing the coronavirus to various materials in the lab.

While the virus was found to last on cardboard for up to 24 hours in this study, the virus remained on plastic and stainless steel for up to two or three days.

As it’s unclear exactly how long the virus can survive on surfaces, it’s important to remember to practice good hygiene practices, including washing your hands frequently and thoroughly, and avoiding touching your face – particularly your eyes, nose or mouth.

Can we spread COVID-19 to our pets?

There is no evidence to suggest that pets are at risk of contracting coronavirus.

“According to the World Health Organisation (WHO) and our vet team at PetSure, there is no current evidence that dogs and cats can become sick from COVID-19,” Monica Limanto, CEO and co-founder of Petsy, told Mamamia.

“This means there is no evidence to suggest we should be concerned about our pets catching or spreading coronavirus, and most importantly, there is no reason for pet owners to be giving away their pets out of fear of this,” she added.

“We need to look after our pets’ health as normal and stay calm as they are likely picking up on the anxiety felt by their human owners at a time like this.”


What can we do to prevent the spread of COVID-19?

In terms of self-protecting and preventing the spread of the virus, the advice among experts is common.

To protect yourself from coronavirus, experts encourage covering your face with a tissue or your elbow when sneezing or coughing to prevent spreading germs, and washing your hands frequently and thoroughly for at least 20-30 seconds. Experts suggest washing your hands before and after eating, after coughing or sneezing, before and after caring for a sick person, after using the bathroom and after visiting a public space.


As for the use face masks, some experts doubt the effectiveness of wearing them. As many face masks are loose, droplets can still pass through.

“There are two situations where a mask will help. In the hospital setting – if you’re a healthcare worker seeing a person with coronavirus – it will help. If we’re having a wider outbreak in Australia and you’re looking after someone at home with coronavirus, wearing a mask will help. But generally wearing it in the wider community won’t be as helpful as practising good hand hygiene,” Dr Sanjaya Sanananyaka told The Quicky.

It has been pointed out that face masks can be used to help prevent you from touching your face.

Despite this, there are no current recommendations from the Australian government to wear masks outside of a health care setting.

Besides frequent hand washing and coughing or sneezing into your elbow, the Australian government and health experts alike have recommended social distancing, which involves reducing close contact between people to prevent the spread of the virus.


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Speaking to Mamamia, Dr Brad McKay said that social distancing is now a community responsibility to effectively prevent the spread of the virus.

“For people saying it’s not a big deal, carry on with your lives – it is a big deal. It may not be a big deal for young people but everyone has parents, everyone has grandparents. We’ve got people we care about,” Dr McKay told Mamamia.

“What we know, is the sooner we act to enact social distancing, the better things will be for us. We know, as medical professionals, the risk. We don’t want everyone gathered in the one area… all you need is one person with coronavirus and then it spreads to everybody,” he explained.

“If people can work at home. If we can cancel events. This is what we should be doing. We know we need to be doing more to spread ourselves and not be living in close quarters.”

Feature Image: Getty.

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