As quarantine restrictions prepare to relax, I hear from many folks in our community about how excited they are that “things are beginning to return to normal.” Their excitement is understandable.

They seem ready to hit the accelerator and go from zero to “party on!” They may forget that 90,000-plus lives were lost and wrongly assume that all of that is behind us.

As a physician, and as someone who loves our community like most of us do, I think a word of caution is in order. 

 Why do I say that?

First, I think we all should understand how people get sick in the first place with COVID-19. We all believe that in order to get infected, you need to get an infectious dose of the virus. Based on what we’ve learned so far, it appears it only takes a small dose to get really sick. 

So … what is a small dose? Experts estimate that it only takes about 1,000 viral particles to get sick. Whether it’s 1,000 particles in one breath, or 100 particles in 10 breaths remains unclear. 

So … how do we get those viral particles in us? Here are some possibilities:

• A cough from an infected person has about 3,000 droplets that travel at 50 mph. Many are large and fall to the ground, but some stay airborne and can travel across a room. Each droplet can have 5,000-7,000 viral particles.

• A sneeze releases 30,000 droplets that travel at 200 mph. They are small and can travel much faster. Get this … if an infected person sneezes, as many as 200,000,000 (that’s right … two hundred million) viral particles can be aerosolized in seconds! Those particles hang in the air, land on surfaces and fall to the ground. 

So if you are around someone coughing or sneezing, it is easy to see how quickly you can inhale 1,000 particles and become infected. 

Even our breath is a source of spread! We don’t know about coronavirus yet, but studies of influenza have shown that we release about 30 viral particles with each breath. Speaking increases the release of viral particles 10 fold, roughly 300. Let’s do the math … it only takes three to five minutes of talking to someone face-to-face to get infected. 

1. This is why masks are so important! 

2. This is why social distancing works!

3. This is why someone who is sick needs to stay home. 

But what about asymptomatic people spreading the virus? We know that about 44% of all infections and the majority of community transmission come from people who have no symptoms. You could be shedding the virus for five days before you develop symptoms. Without a mask, you could leave the virus on everything you touch for someone else to inadvertently pick up … gas stations, grocery stores, door knobs, you name it. 

And this is why hand washing is so important! You may touch a surface that an asymptomatic person left his viral particles on. They can survive for hours on most surfaces.

Masks work and they work in two important ways. One is they obviously prevent or reduce the likelihood of inhaling deadly viral particles. But another often overlooked benefit is they prevent us from touching our face. Studies have shown we touch/scratch our face dozens of times an hour. If you had accidentally touched one of those contaminated surfaces, then touched your face, you’d probably get sick.

Have you noticed that the hundreds of employees at Pella, Saputo and Briggs have continued to work throughout the pandemic without an outbreak? So has Walmart, Kroger and Food Giant? Why?

They’ve acted responsibly. They’ve been smart. 

So as we move forward together, remember what we’ve learned and prevent another outbreak. After all, it’s up to each of us to act responsibly and be smart. 

Together, we can do this! Let Murray be a positive example to the other towns in our region.

This article was inspired by a piece written by Dr. Erin Bromage, PhD, University of Massachusetts. n

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