Extended Lifetime of Respiratory Droplets in a Turbulent Vapor Puff and Its Implications on Airborne Disease Transmission

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Abstract

To quantify the fate of respiratory droplets under different ambient relative humidities, direct numerical simulations of a typical respiratory event are performed. We found that, because small droplets (with initial diameter of 10 μm) are swept by turbulent eddies in the expelled humid puff, their lifetime gets extended by a factor of more than 30 times as compared to what is suggested by the classical picture by Wells, for 50% relative humidity. With increasing ambient relative humidity the extension of the lifetimes of the small droplets further increases and goes up to around 150 times for 90% relative humidity, implying more than 2 m advection range of the respiratory droplets within 1 sec. Employing Lagrangian statistics, we demonstrate that the turbulent humid respiratory puff engulfs the small droplets, leading to many orders of magnitude increase in their lifetimes, implying that they can be transported much further during the respiratory events than the large ones. Our findings provide the starting points for larger parameter studies and may be instructive for developing strategies on optimizing ventilation and indoor humidity control. Such strategies are key in mitigating the COVID-19 pandemic in the present autumn and upcoming winter.

Original languageEnglish
Article number034502
JournalPhysical review letters
Volume126
Issue number3
DOIs
Publication statusPublished - 19 Jan 2021

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