According to the New York Times, taking an elevator every day is riskier to people who live or work in tall buildings. Linsey Marr, an aerosol scientist at Virginia Tech, said that elevators are tricky, as getting the virus could vary on the elevator.
Most elevators are not big enough to allow people to practice physical distancing of 6 feet apart, so the chance that infected passengers could transmit it is high, specifically if they are unmasked and cough or talk.
But there are other ways that a person might get infected even if that person is riding the elevator alone. For instance, the elevator's handrails and buttons could be contaminated by the virus, and if someone touches them, they could become infected. Another thing also is the elevator air; an infected person could be riding in it, and it could also infect the next person riding the elevator.
Is it Safe To Ride an Elevator? Modeling Hypothetical Ride
Portland State University's dean of engineering and computer science, and a specialist in indoor air quality, Richard L. Corsi, created a model by employing principles of engineering and fluid mechanics to learn more about elevator safety.
But since there are many different elevators and buildings, there are thousands of scenarios that give different results. He had to consider the size of the elevator, the speed at which it travels, the amount of time it opens, and if the elevator has a ventilation system to create a model.
From there, he decided to model a hypothetical elevator ride wherein infected Passenger A rides the elevator alone from the first floor for 31 seconds to the 10th floor of a residential building. The passenger is not wearing a mask, and he coughs while talking to the phone. Some droplets he exhaled fell to the ground, while some hit the sides of the elevator and some floats in the air.
Upon reaching the 10th floor, the elevator door opens for 10 seconds as he exits, and drags some of his germs with him as he leaves. Different air pressures from the inside and outside of the elevator dilute the air by about half, and as then, the door shuts and goes back to the first flow where Passenger B is waiting. The door opens, the lobby air circulates into the elevator, and diluting the air again by half, and then Passenger B enters.
This means that Passenger B is already exposed to about 25% of the viral particles Passenger A exhaled when riding the elevator. But Dr. Corsi warns that the number could change in a different elevator, based on how long the doors stay open, its ventilation system, and the air pressures present in the building.
Will Passenger B in the Elevator Get Infected?
In a single cough, a person can release approximately 300,000 particles. Since Passenger A coughed inside the elevator where Passenger B also rode, the bigger question will be if she would also get the disease.
Dr. Cosi said that it is still unclear whether the dose of the particles in the elevator air can pose a significant risk. Still, many experts believe that airborne particles in empty elevators can pose a high risk when it comes to coronavirus.
According to Dr. Ilan Schwartz of the University of Alberta, even inside the homes, a COVID-19 positive can infect other members of the household by 10 to 20 percent. That rate is much contagious than airborne diseases such as measles, which have an infection rate of 75% to 90%.
Though it is possible that coronavirus particles can still stay in the air, the main mode of transmission is through droplets exhaled or coughed by the infected person.
The best thing elevator riders can do is to avoid riding with another person, wearing a mask, avoid touching the face and wash their hands after an elevator ride.