Just How Contagious Is Coronavirus? <1 Minute of Close Contact Got People in China Infected

The reopening of the Badaling Great Wall in Beijing this past week with restrictions (health checks, no more than 30 percent of normal crowds) reflects just how much the epidemic situation has improved in China’s capital city, where I live. But it’s still a cautious approach – and caution does reign for many of us in how we live our lives.

For example, I still continue to distance myself from anyone I meet on the street, and sometimes six feet even feels too close to me. I’m not the only one who would rather stay farther away, as an article from the local Cleveland, Ohio news site attested to (I’ve closely followed the news in Ohio since much of my family lives there):

Linsey Marr, an aerosol virus transmission expert at Virginia Tech University, told cleveland.com in an email that any viruses released outdoors “will be quickly diluted such that there’s a much lower chance for someone to breathe in many viruses than if they are indoors.” She recommends that people stay 10 feet apart — the farther the better.

So while it’s perfectly OK to go outside for a walk or run, still it might be a good idea to cross the street if you see someone coming on the sidewalk, or keep your distance as you wait for them to pass.

This advice makes sense because the coronavirus is highly contagious. And shocking news reports of how people contracted the virus here in China have really emphasized this reality for me.

Consider this Chinese language news story, which in its headline highlights two cautionary tales: infected in 15 seconds while buying vegetables, infected in 50 seconds while picking up medicine (买菜15秒被感染,取药50秒被感染) [Note: I’ve included the original text along with my translation]:

杭州和宁波于2月5日和2月6日发布的两则确诊病例显示:一人出门买菜,和另一确诊者在同一个摊位有过共同驻留,事后被确诊感染;另一人去药房取药,和另一确诊者在吧台有过共同驻留,事后被确诊感染。这两起病例,共同驻留的时间连一分钟都不到,共同点是两起案例涉及的4个人,都没有戴口罩。

Two confirmed coronavirus cases respectively reported by the cities of Hangzhou and Ningbo on Feb 5 and Feb 6 showed: One person who went out to buy vegetables had stayed at the same vegetable stand with a person confirmed with the virus and was later diagnosed with an infection; another person who went to the pharmacy to get medicine and stayed with another person confirmed with the virus at the counter was later diagnosed with an infection afterwards.

In both cases, the time these people spent together was less than a minute. What these stories have in common is that the four people involved in the two cases did not wear masks.

根据宁波市江北区公安部门2月5日公共视频比对发现,1月23日早上7:47,该患者在双东坊菜场买菜时与路人(江北区确诊患者2:女,61岁,家住文教街道翠柏西巷,1月19日应约参加祈福活动)在同一摊位有过短暂(约15秒)的近距离共同驻留,且两人均未佩戴口罩。

According to a public video comparison of the public security department of Jiangbei district, Ningbo city on Feb 5, it was found that at 7:47 am on Jan 23, the man was shopping at the Shuangdongfang Vegetable Market with a passerby (the 2nd patient diagnosed in Jiangbei district: female, 61 years old, living in Cuibai West Lane of Wenjiao Jie and was invited to participate in a blessing event on Jan 19). The two had a short stay (approximately 15 seconds) at the same booth, staying together at a short distance, and neither of them wore a mask.

根据杭州当地公安部门2月5日公共视频比对发现,1月22日14时21分,徐某某从该医馆的药房门口处进入医馆,与杨某某(1月22日发病的确诊病例)正面相遇,当时徐某某在一楼吧台处取药,杨某某在外侧吧台处停留,有过约50秒的近距离共同驻留,期间两人均未佩戴口罩。1月25日、1月27日徐某某、王某某相继发病,2月5日确诊。

According to a public video comparison on Feb 5 by the local public security department in Hangzhou, at 14:21 on Jan 22, Xu Moumou entered the medical hall from the pharmacy entrance of the medical hall, and Yang Moumou (onset of illness on Jan 22, a confirmed coronavirus case) encountered each other head-on. At that time, Xu Moumou got medicine at the counter on the first floor, while Yang Moumou stayed at the outer side of the counter. The two people stayed together at a short distance for about 50 seconds. During the period, neither of them wore a mask. On Jan 25 and Jan 27, Xu Moumou and Wang Moumou [wife of Xu Moumou] developed symptoms one after another, and their diagnosis [of COVID-19] was confirmed on Feb 5.

Note that in both cases the people got infected in indoor settings, which underlines just how risky it is to be in close contact with anyone in an indoor space.

Wherever you are in the world, please stay safe – and keep a distance, especially indoors.

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6 Replies to “Just How Contagious Is Coronavirus? <1 Minute of Close Contact Got People in China Infected”

  1. Well, if you’ve read U.S. news, you’ve seen that tens of millions of Americans either are flouting the “decrees”, or else don’t believe that there is really a deadly virus. That has led to “innovative” new methods such as yesterday’s newest rule out of West Virginia where if you drive into WV, the police will detain you for a 14-day quarantine wherever you cross the state line. Seeing as the nearest highway line is where I grew up, I’m in no hurry to spend time there. However, this keeps me from going to better-stocked grocery stores in WV or Ohio, and more importantly keeps me away from our best ramp patch. In Pennsylvania, the governor just decreed that we have “four more weeks of ‘winter'” and we are to stay at home until April 30. I haven’t been to a grocery store in 12 days, so I have to head out quickly today, but that may be it for the foreseeable future. A great world we live in here… Take care in Beijing!

    1. Hey Ryan, thanks for the comment. Really sorry to hear about the situation you’re facing in your region — hope you’ve been able to stock up well at the store during your visits!

  2. I live in NY, and many grocery stores now have special hours where only people who are 60+ and/or immuno-compromised can shop. My fiance and I shop at Asian grocery stores often, and I’ve noticed that many of them require that anyone who enters has to wear a mask. Are masks becoming mandatory in Beijing? I see more non-Asian people here wearing masks but they’re definitely used more in the Asian community.

    1. Smart that the Asian grocery stores require masks, which have since been recommended in the US. Masks have always been mandatory here in Beijing from the beginning. I initially didn’t have many and had to make do with a scarf, but later on purchased some and received masks from my workplace too.

  3. I wear an N95 mask every time I have to be outdoors. As soon as I heard the news of a respiratory virus starting to spread in Wuhan back in January, I stockpiled masks and other essential items. I am an essential worker here and freight have to be shipped and metal components welded so I still have to work.

    WEAR A MASK ALL THE TIME. USE COMMON SENSE. Think about it. ANY barrier over your face is better than no barrier at all. F*ck the WHO’s BS advice about not wearing masks. The WHO also state that they need to forcibly remove family members from homes to “stop the virus”. I am literally DYING for them to try that sh*t here. Enter the boundaries of my home unauthorized and you will immediately receive a ‘welcoming present’ called 7.62x51mm NATO, weighing 150 grains and traveling at 2,800 feet per second. And try to drag somebody out of a house within sight of my window and do not be surprised when a melon sized hole opens up in your chest, from behind.

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