New airflow study shows how to prevent COVID spread inside a vehicle

A new study looking at how airflow inside a vehicle impacts the risk of getting COVID-19 may help keep people healthier.

With many New Yorkers opting for taxis or other ride-sharing services instead of mass transit during the pandemic, it's become difficult to socially distance when operating or riding in a vehicle.  

So researchers from Brown University and the University of Massachusetts Amherst developed a computer simulation to learn how air flows in a confined space, like a car.

“It showed us that you don’t necessarily need to open all the windows,” said Varghese Mathai, a professor of physics who worked on the study.

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 The worst thing to do is to keep the windows up and put the heat or air conditioning on full blast.

Having the passenger sitting in the backseat with all four windows down is ideal, but not the only safe option. You can create the right amount of airflow when one window is open in the back and another in the front, specifically, the front passenger side window and the window behind the driver. When the car is moving, this causes the air to flow in from the back and out the front, limiting cross-contamination within the vehicle.

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"You are going on a diagonal through the car and there’s a strong wind between the occupants,” said Mathai.

He adds that this can create an air curtain between the driver and passenger. 

“This gust of air serves as an air barrier between two occupants."