COVID-19 lingers in the air for hours, UTMB researcher says

GALVESTON, Texas (KTRK) -- We're months into the pandemic now and our understanding of how the coronavirus behaves is still changing.

Doctors and our own immune systems have never seen this virus before this year. A new study is showing why it may be even more contagious than we thought.

"Aerosol droplets are so small that they can remain suspended in the air, especially in a stagnant indoor airspace for many hours," Dr. Scott Weaver with UTMB said.

Weaver is the Scientific Director of the Galveston National Lab and Director of the UTMB Institute for Human Infections & Immunity. He explained a new study that shows just how long the virus can stay in the air.

"(It) turns out the longest time point we measured -- 16 hours, the virus was still alive in aerosols created experimentally in a laboratory environment," Weaver said.

COVID-19 is understood to be a droplet-transmitted virus. A group of scientists not associated with this study are actually trying to get the virus re-classified as airborne transmitted.

"Especially in an indoor environment, those droplets are the basis for saying, 'try to maintain six feet from other people,'" Weaver said.

Social distancing isn't a guarantee, but Weaver joins most other medical professionals who say it's one of our best tools. Ventilation is also key.

"I think the data are very clear that masking does make a difference," Weaver said.

In addition to the global effort now to develop a vaccine, it's important to remember doctors and scientists are still trying to understand how the virus works. Doctors say this information is key, especially as parents and educators are trying to plan for a return to school.

Learn more about the Galveston National Laboratory here.

Follow Steven Romo on Facebook and Twitter.
Copyright © 2020 KTRK-TV. All Rights Reserved.