Newly published research reveals that COVID-19 is getting better at spreading through the air as it evolves, putting more people at risk of contracting the virus. The study involved the Alpha, not Delta, variant due to its dominance when the research was conducted, but the scientists note that the now-dominant Delta variant is even more contagious than the Alpha variant they studied.
The research was led by the University of Maryland School of Public Health; the study was published in the peer-reviewed journal Clinical Infectious Diseases. The findings reveal that the SARS-CoV-2 Alpha variant resulted in considerably more virus in exhalations compared to the original strains, increasing the risk of infecting others nearby.
The amount of virus in the air from those infected with SARS-CoV-2 Alpha was found to be 43 to 100 times greater than from those who were infected with the original strains — though, as expected, wearing surgical or cloth masks were found to significantly cut the amount of virus in the air. The researchers acknowledge that the amount of virus found in swabs from Alpha patients was greater than others.
However, that couldn’t account for the increased amount of virus found in the patients’ breath, according to the study. The Delta variant, which is now widespread in many countries, is even more infectious, indicating that the virus is evolving in a way that makes it more capable of transmitting through the air.
Dr. Don Milton, one of the researchers behind the study, explained:
Our latest study provides further evidence of the importance of airborne transmission. We know that the Delta variant circulating now is even more contagious than the Alpha variant. Our research indicates that the variants just keep getting better at travelling through the air, so we must provide better ventilation and wear tight-fitting masks, in addition to vaccination, to help stop spread of the virus.