Am I Safe in A Car on A Trip with A Potential COVID Infected Passenger?
Ever since the COVID-19 pandemic has taken over the globe, there has been a major shift in people’s lifestyles and how they carry their day-to-day activities. As the virus transmission is so rapid and the only defense against it is to minimize social interactions, people are getting really hesitant interacting with other human beings during their routine activities. People are especially scared of using services like restaurants, car sharing, public communication, and others that involve greater chances of direct or indirect interaction. But what are the actual risks involved in sharing a car with another individual that you are not sure is infection-free, and the measures that can be taken to reduce the risks of catching the virus if the person you are traveling with is COVID positive?
So, is it safe to share a car with a person that might have the virus? When it comes to the
definition of safety, there is a rather straightforward answer to the question posed: definitely
not. However, traveling in a car with an infected patient does not mean it is indispensable that you get the virus from the infected person. Transmission of the virus from infected individuals greatly depends on the seating positions of the individuals, the level of interaction between them during the ride, and the precautions they observe in the wake of following the COVID protocols. Certainly, there are ways to escape catching the virus, protecting yourself, your community, and those close to you.
How Coronavirus is transmitted?
Grasping the concept of the modes of COVID transmission would be a primary step in
preventing its spread. A person during respiration exhales out tiny particles of moisture and
other respiratory tract fluids along with the air. These particles are categorized according to
their sizes into the heavier ‘droplets’ and the lighter ‘aerosols’. The proportion of the heavier
droplets would obviously be greater when a person talks or especially during coughing or
sneezing. An infected person along with the respiratory tract fluids also exhales the virus which binds with the moisture and spreads into the surroundings. This virus then finds its way into another human being’s respiratory tract and infects that person. This is how the disease is spread from one individual to another.
What can you do to keep yourself safe?
For the sake of simplicity, we’ll take the example that only two passengers are sharing a
compact car. The risk of transmission will increase as the number of people in the car increases.The state of ventilation in the car is most crucial in estimating the odds of virus transmission. With the car’s windows up, the air is trapped inside the car. It cannot get replaced by fresh air.
In such a case, if one of the passengers has the virus, its concentration in the air inside the car will eventually rise which increases the chances that the other person, who is breathing the same air can get infected. If instead, the windows are rolled down to allow ventilation, the air inside the car constantly gets replaced by fresh air. So even if one person is infected and is breathing out the virus, it has very little chance to reach the other person. Chances that the virus will go out from the car into the atmosphere are much greater, where it cannot remain viable for more than a couple of hours depending upon the temperatures, pressures, and humidity levels it gets subjected to.
Transmission through aerosols can be prevented by proper ventilation in the car, but what
about the heavier ‘droplets’ that result from talking, coughing, and sneezing? These heavier
particles become a mode of COVID transmission to individuals in close vicinity to the infected person. Thus, another factor comes into consideration on which the virus transmission in a car depends: the interaction between the passengers. Coughing or sneezing by the infected individual will either take the droplets towards the other passenger or will make them fall on to the nearby surfaces. Thus, in order to minimize transmission, the passengers should be seated at the farthest distance away from each other. However, there is a limit to which two passengers can be distanced within a car. This means that if a person is coughing or sneezing, the virus-containing droplets have a very high possibility to end up in the other person’s respiratory tract.
Be careful with talks
People also let out these droplets while talking. The louder they speak, the more
droplets are released. So, while traveling, the conversations between the passengers should be minimized. Even if one has to speak with the other, the person talking should not be facing the other individual so that the droplets coming out are not projected towards the other person.
What else can you do?
Those virus-containing droplets that end up on the nearby car surfaces have the chance to end up in the other person’s respiratory tract if the person somehow contacts that surface. Thus, while sharing a car with another individual, try not to exchange any physical object between yourselves and try not to touch your nose, mouth, or eyes. Make sure to properly clean your hands after the ride before touching your face.
Another great shield against the COVID-19 is the face mask. Wearing a face mask basically
ensures that the droplets resulting from respiration do not spread at larger distances, where
the virus-containing ones could become the cause of infecting another person. Face masks
block these droplets and hence decelerate the spread of the virus. For the two passengers in
the car wearing face masks, even if one of them has the virus, the droplets containing the virus won’t get the chance to reach the other individual thus dropping the risks of transmission.
To sum it up, traveling in a car with a potential COVID case is not safe but you can follow certain precautionary measures to prevent virus transmission. The chances a person will get the virus by sharing a car with an infected person depend on how much distance is maintained between the two individuals, the time duration for which they are together in the car, the state of ventilation in the car, and the interaction between the two individuals.
Car sharing with a person showing any symptoms of the disease like coughing or sneezing should better be avoided to ensure your safety. During these times of COVID-19, everyone should prefer not to share a car with a stranger that you have no idea is infection-free and if it’s absolutely necessary, follow the protocols to minimize the transmission risk.