by Dina Kupfer

DAVIS (CBS13) — Restaurants may need to consider airflow in addition to social distancing before they open up indoor seating areas.

New research finds the coronavirus can travel farther than six feet if it’s caught up in an airstream.

Most restaurants across the state have been operating on a strictly take-out basis since the middle of March, but as these businesses begin to modify their dining rooms in order to reopen, it turns out there is a lot to consider.

We spoke with UC Davis professor of chemical engineering William Ristenpart who says the amount of airflow in a space should also be considered.

“There are instances of transmission over distances much greater than six feet,” Ristenpart said. “These expiratory particles, you can’t see them they are so small, they get carried by little air currents.”

A recent study out of China showed how one customer with COVID-19 spread the disease to nine others. But looking at the pattern of infection, some people seated at the diner’s table and at the one in front and behind were infected. But nobody at the table next to it was.

READ: Restaurant Restart: State Releases Guidelines For Restaurants To Move Towards Reopening

“If there is not very good ventilation, then you’re effectively sitting there breathing in other people exhaled air, for a much longer time period, maximizing the probability of inhaling one of these particles that has the virus,” Ristenpart said. “I would not feel safe even in a restaurant with the tables more than six feet apart if they had very poor ventilation.”

A team of researchers from UC Davis and the University of Oregon published a paper focused on minimizing viral transmission in buildings.

“We created a conceptual visualization of how the aerosols may be spreading in that room with a fan that is simply recirculating the air. Whether it was an air conditioner, or just a fan moving air, the visualization is really trying to articulate how the particles get caught up in the air and move around the space,” Kevin Van Den Wymelenberg, a professor at the University of Oregon, said.

The team created a second animation for the same room, only with an open window

“So in this conceptual visualization, what we were seeing is that, with increased outside air exchange, through the open window, particles deposit more quickly and then also be exhausted from the airstream more quickly,” Van Den Wymelenberg said.

As for outdoor dining, researchers say that is safer than any indoor plan.


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