Evidence from preliminary studies and field reports that SARS-CoV-2 is spreading in aerosols is mixed. At the height of the coronavirus outbreak in Wuhan, China, virologist Ke Lan at Wuhan University collected samples of aerosols in and around hospitals treating people with COVID-19, as well as at the busy entrances of two department stores.

In an unreviewed preprint1, Lan and his colleagues report finding viral RNA from SARS-CoV-2 in a number of locations, including the department stores.

The study doesn’t ascertain whether the aerosols collected were able to infect cells. But, in an e-mail to Nature, Lan says the work demonstrates that “during breathing or talking, SARS-CoV-2 aerosol transmission might occur and impact people both near and far from the source”. As a precaution, the general public should avoid crowds, he writes, and should also wear masks, “to reduce the risk of airborne virus exposure”.