Model Calculations of Aerosol Transmission and Infection Risk of COVID-19 in Indoor Environments

Int J Environ Res Public Health. 2020 Nov 3;17(21):8114. doi: 10.3390/ijerph17218114.


The role of aerosolized SARS-CoV-2 viruses in airborne transmission of COVID-19 has been debated. The aerosols are transmitted through breathing and vocalization by infectious subjects. Some authors state that this represents the dominant route of spreading, while others dismiss the option. Here we present an adjustable algorithm to estimate the infection risk for different indoor environments, constrained by published data of human aerosol emissions, SARS-CoV-2 viral loads, infective dose and other parameters. We evaluate typical indoor settings such as an office, a classroom, choir practice, and a reception/party. Our results suggest that aerosols from highly infective subjects can effectively transmit COVID-19 in indoor environments. This "highly infective" category represents approximately 20% of the patients who tested positive for SARS-CoV-2. We find that "super infective" subjects, representing the top 5-10% of subjects with a positive test, plus an unknown fraction of less-but still highly infective, high aerosol-emitting subjects-may cause COVID-19 clusters (>10 infections). In general, active room ventilation and the ubiquitous wearing of face masks (i.e., by all subjects) may reduce the individual infection risk by a factor of five to ten, similar to high-volume, high-efficiency particulate air (HEPA) filtering. A particularly effective mitigation measure is the use of high-quality masks, which can drastically reduce the indoor infection risk through aerosols.

Keywords: COVID-19; SARS-CoV-2 virus; aerosol particles; airborne transmission; indoor environment; infection risk.

MeSH terms

  • Aerosols*
  • Air Microbiology
  • Algorithms
  • Betacoronavirus
  • COVID-19
  • Coronavirus Infections / prevention & control
  • Coronavirus Infections / transmission*
  • Filtration
  • Humans
  • Masks
  • Models, Theoretical*
  • Pandemics / prevention & control
  • Pneumonia, Viral / prevention & control
  • Pneumonia, Viral / transmission*
  • SARS-CoV-2
  • Ventilation


  • Aerosols