In a new study, researchers reported a person on a poorly ventilated Chinese bus infected nearly two dozen other passengers with COVID-19 even though many weren’t sitting close by.
The finding offers fresh evidence the disease can spread in the air.
The research was conducted by a team at the University of Georgia College of Public Health and elsewhere.
Previous studies had initially discounted the possibility that simply breathing could send infectious micro-droplets into the air.
In the study, the team probed the threat of airborne infection by taking a close look at passengers who made a 50-minute trip to a Buddhist event in the eastern Chinese city of Ningbo aboard two buses in January before face masks became routine against the virus.
They believed a passenger, whose gender was not identified, was likely patient zero because the person had been in contact with people from Wuhan, the city where the contagion emerged late last year.
The team mapped out where the other passengers sat, and also test them for the virus, with 23 of 68 passengers subsequently confirmed as infected on the same bus.
They found the sickness infected people were in the front and back of the bus, outside the perimeter of 1-2 meters (three-six feet) that authorities say infectious droplets can travel.
Moreover, the sick passenger was not yet showing symptoms of the disease, such as a cough, when the group made their trip to a religious event.
The team also noted the air conditioning simply recirculated the air inside the bus, which likely contributed to the spreading of the virus.
They say that in closed environments with air recirculation, the COVID-19 virus is a highly transmissible pathogen.
One author of the study is Ye Shen, Ph.D.
The study is published in JAMA Internal Medicine.
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