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Someone on a Chinese bus spread the coronavirus to 24 people even though they were socially distanced

A new study suggests the novel coronavirus can spread in the air of poorly-ventilated buses.

Delegates walk out from a hotel as they prepare to board the buses to head to the Great Hall of the People to attend a plenary session of China’s National People’s Congress (NPC) in Beijing, Monday, May 25, 2020.
Delegates walk out from a hotel as they prepare to board the buses to head to the Great Hall of the People to attend a plenary session of China’s National People’s Congress in Beijing, Monday, May 25, 2020.
Associated Press

Someone who had the novel coronavirus infected about two dozen bus passengers even though they weren’t sitting nearby, according to new research, offering new evidence about the virus spreads through the air.

What’s going on?

A new article published in JAMA Internal Medicine looked into how airborne infection can happen. It specifically looked at passengers who rode a bus for 50 minutes from Ningbo, China.

The bus trip happened in January before face masks became common during the pandemic.

  • The passenger was likely the first patient on the bus to have the coronavirus, having received it from people in Wuhan, China, where the spread of the coronavirus began in late 2019, the researchers said, according to CBS News.

The researchers rolled out where each of the passengers sat. In total, 23 of the 68 passengers became sick from the virus, CBS News reports.

  • CBS News said: “What is notable is that the sickness infected people in the front and back of the bus, outside the perimeter of three to six feet that authorities and experts say infectious droplets can travel.”

No passenger showed signs of the coronavirus when they got onboard, either.

Why it matters:

The researchers suggest that ventilation is an important factor in how badly the coronavirus spreads.

  • “The investigations suggest that, in closed environments with air recirculation, SARS-CoV-2 is a highly transmissible pathogen,” they wrote. “Our finding of potential airborne transmission has important public health significance.”