Fast walking in narrow corridors can increase COVID-19 transfer risk

PICTURE: The cough-generated droplets of a migrating individual disperse differently in a narrow corridor and free area. In a free area, the droplets are scattered in a wide range fixed … view more

Credit: Xiaolei Yang

WASHINGTON, Dec. 15, 2020 – Computer simulations were used to accurately predict patterns of airflow and droplet diffusion in situations where COVID-19 could be propagated. In the magazine Fluid Physics, from AIP Publishing, results show the importance of the shape of space in modeling how virus-laden droplets move through the air.

The simulations are used to determine flow patterns behind a migrating individual in spaces of different shape. The results reveal a higher transmission risk for children in some cases, such as behind people moving quickly in a long narrow corridor.

Previous research using this simulation technique has helped scientists understand the influence of objects, such as glass barriers, windows, air conditioners and toilets, on airflow patterns and the spread of viruses. The previous simulations usually assumed a large open interior space but did not take into account the impact of nearby walls, such as those that could exist in a narrow corridor.

If someone walking in a corridor coughs, their breath expels droplets that travel around and behind their body, forming a wake in the way a boat forms a wake in water as it travels. The investigation revealed the existence of a “recirculating bladder” directly behind the person’s torso and a long wake flowing out behind them at about waist height.

“The currents we found are strongly related to the shape of the human body,” said author Xiaolei Yang. “At 2 meters downstream, the wake is almost negligible at mouth height and leg height but is still visible at waist height.”

Once the airflow patterns were determined, the survey modeled the spread of a cloud of droplets expelled from the pretend person’s mouth. The shape of the space around the moving human is particularly critical for this part of the calculation.

Two types of diffusion regimes have been found. In one mode, the cloud of droplets detaches from the moving person and floats far behind that individual, creating a floating bubble of virus-laden droplets. In the other mode, the cloud is tied to the person’s back, trailing like a tail as they move through space.

“For the detached regimen, the droplet concentration is much higher than for the bound regimen, five seconds after coughing,” Yang said. “This presents a major challenge in determining safe social distance in places like a very narrow corridor where a person can inhale male droplets even if the patient is far in front of him or her.”

The danger is especially great for children, because in both modes, the cloud of droplets hovers far above the ground, which is about half the height of the infected person – in other words, at the oral level for children.


The article, “Effects of space sizes on the spread of cough-generated droplets from a walking human,” is written by Zhaobin Li, Hongping Wang, Xinlei Zhang, Ting Wu and Xiaolei Yang. The article will appear in Fluid Physics on 15 December 2020 (DOI: 10.1063 / 5.0034874).
After that date, it is accessible at https: // /doi /10.1063 /5.0034874.


Fluid Physics is dedicated to the publication of original theoretical, computational, and experimental contributions to the dynamics of gases, liquids, and complex fluids. See https: // /newspaper /phf.

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