How is COVID-19 Transmitted?

What's more effective at protecting yourself from the virus: Hand sanitizer or a facemask?

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How exactly does coronavirus make you sick and what are the riskiest behaviors? Don’t know the answer? Don’t worry, you’re in good company.

Our cameras spotted dozens of folks wearing facemasks along the Embarcadero Thursday midday, but few could explain why.

“Everybody’s got an opinion and who do you believe?” said San Diego native Arthur Martinez. “I don’t know.”

"I think that most people need to be more educated,” says Deborah Taylor, a special education teacher visiting San Diego from Arizona.  

Even within the same family we got mixed thumbs up and down reviews on how much they felt they knew about the virus.

“Most people don’t really know about it,” said Aiden Zook. “They just put a mask on but they don’t get it. And they use hand sanitizer because it kills some of the germs, but I don’t think they know much about it, like how you get it or how you stop it.”

“Definitely a lot of misinformation,” said his mother, Heather Zook.

Despite the confusion, six months into the pandemic, researchers from across the country say we know a lot more about how the virus works.

Here’s what we know now that we didn’t back in February:

  1. You’re not likely to get it from touching a contaminated surface
  2. And you’re not likely to catch it from quick encounters with other people outside. (That doesn’t mean you can’t contract the virus – those activities just aren’t nearly as high of risk)
  3. You’re most likely to catch the virus when you talk to someone less than 6 feet away for at least 15 minutes without wearing a facemask

Here’s why:

The Centers of Disease Control says the most common way to catch COVID-19 is when someone coughs, talks or breathes virus-carrying droplets. Those droplets need to build up around you, and they need to get into your respiratory tract.

“There are several things that we’ve learned as time has gone on,” says Dr. Robert Schooley, a professor of medicine at UC San Diego. “Surfaces are less of a hazard than we thought.”

However, a new hazard has grabbed the attention of researchers: aerosols.

Schooley says aerosols can also spread the virus – which can stay in the air longer and travel farther than droplets – making a particular accessory even more paramount.

“The most important thing is that we know now that wearing masks is highly protective,” says Schooley.

Earlier this week, county leaders revealed that 40% of community outbreaks came from restaurants and private residences – all of them in indoor settings.

The good news – Schooley says we don’t need another lockdown to stop the spread.

“With what we know now,” says Schooley. “There are a lot of things that we can do pretty safely.”

What we do need to do to contain the spread, says Schooley, is wear facemasks, adhere to social distancing and avoiding crowded, indoor spaces.

All of which Arthur Martinez says he is willing to follow, whether he gets the science behind them or not.

“I’m not a young chicken anymore!” joked Martinez.

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