How coronavirus survives for hours in aerosols

Phys Fluids (1994). 2021 Aug;33(8):081708. doi: 10.1063/5.0059908. Epub 2021 Aug 18.


COVID (CoronaVirus Disease)-19, caused by severe acute respiratory syndrome-CoronaVirus-2 (SARS-CoV-2) virus, predominantly transmits via airborne route, as highlighted by recent studies. Furthermore, recently published titer measurements of SARS-CoV-2 in aerosols have disclosed that the coronavirus can survive for hours. A consolidated knowledge on the physical mechanism and governing rules behind the significantly long survival of coronavirus in aerosols is lacking, which is the subject of the present investigation. We model the evaporation of aerosolized droplets of diameter 5 μ m. The conventional diffusion-limited evaporation is not valid to model the evaporation of small size (μm-nm) droplets since it predicts drying time on the order of milliseconds. Also, the sedimentation timescale of desiccated droplets is on the order of days and overpredicts the virus survival time; hence, it does not corroborate with the above-mentioned titer-decay timescale. We attribute the virus survival timescale to the fact that the drying of small ( μ m-nm) droplets is governed, in principle, by the excess internal pressure within the droplet, which stems from the disjoining pressure due to the cohesive intermolecular interaction between the liquid molecules and the Laplace-pressure. The model predictions for the temporal reduction in the aerosolized droplet number density agree well with the temporal decay of virus titer. The findings, therefore, provide insight on the survival of coronavirus in aerosols, which is particularly important to mitigate the spread of COVID-19 from indoors.