Fresh IHBE Study Explores Social Distancing

A tin of white mints is displayed on a peach-colored surface.

Breath mints have long been advertised as a minty-fresh way to encourage closeness. Thanks to researchers from the UO College of Design, they may also provide clues to social distancing.  

In a recent study by the Institute for Health in the Built Environment (IHBE), the team explored an idea, from several studies, that the significant number of COVID-19 super spreading outbreaks were being caused by transmissions greater than six feet away, called far-field transmissions. With current guidelines recommending at least six feet of distance for proper social distancing, the findings could have implications for future distancing guidelines.

Being able to quantify the ratio of near- and far-field exposure to emissions from a source is key to better understanding human-to-human airborne infectious disease transmission and associated risks.

Using an environmentally-controlled chamber to measure volatile organic compounds (VOC) released from a healthy participant who consumed breath mints with unique tracer compounds, the team was able to observe the concentration and spread of the tracer compounds over time. They found that the longer you stay in a space, the less effective social distancing becomes.

Additionally, their research shows a novel methodology for studying airborne bioaerosols using VOCs, in this case in breath mints, as proxies for airborne pathogens. This method can be used in the future to estimate the benefits of alternate environmental conditions and occupant behaviors.

Read more about the findings on IHBE's website: New Publication: Novel VOC Breath Tracer Method for Studying Aerosol Transmission

Read IHBE's published study:  A novel VOC breath tracer method to evaluate indoor respiratory exposures in the near- and far-fields; implications for the spread of respiratory viruses