University of Minnesota study looks at how COVID-19 spreads indoors

A numerical simulation shows aerosol transport and deposition in a small classroom setting with an asymptomatic instructor and the ceiling ventilation system located in the back (top) and front (bottom) of the classroom (Suo Yang, University of Minnesota)

A new study by researchers at the University of Minnesota College of Science and Engineering shows how the coronavirus moves indoors. 

The research team modeled the transmission of COVID-19 through aerosols, which are expelled from mouths when people talk and breathe. The team modeled the flow in three different settings: classrooms, elevators and the supermarket.

In the classroom setting, for example, the researchers studied an asymptomatic-infected individual teaching at the front of the room for 50 minutes. They found only 10 percent of the virus particles were filtered out with good ventilation, but they discovered it mattered where an air vent was placed. When the teacher spoke directly under it, the aerosols didn’t spread as much.

Researchers say this could help arrange classrooms and businesses with less “hot spots” or areas where the aerosols congregate. 

“After our work goes out, I think more people will ask for help because I think many businesses reopening will have this need—movie theaters, drama theaters, any place with large gatherings,” said assistant professor Suo Yang, one of the study's researchers in a press release. “If you do a good job, if you have good ventilation at the right location, and if you scatter the seating of the audience properly, it could be much safer.”

The researchers are also working with the Minnesota Orchestra to see how aerosols travel when instruments are played onstage and hope to have that study completed in August.