COVID-19 researchers have rightly extolled the virtues of masks, hailed the necessity of ventilation, and praised the salutary nature of outdoor activities. But another behavioral tactic hasn’t received enough attention, in part because it makes itself known by its absence. That tactic is silence.
Yes, it is finally time to talk, in this pandemic, about the importance of not talking in this pandemic.
“Every route of viral transmission would go down if we talked less, or talked less loudly, in public spaces,” Jose L. Jimenez, a professor at the University of Colorado at Boulder, who studies disease transmission, told me. “This is just a very clear fact. It’s not controversial.”
Silence is golden as an antiviral strategy because of how this disease spreads. The coronavirus seems to move primarily through viral particles that erupt from our faces when we sneeze, cough, talk, or sing. Some of these particles are heavy enough to splash on a nearby surface or fall quickly to the ground. Those are called large droplets. They are large only in comparison with the smaller globs that spray from our mouths and linger in the air in a swirling particle cloud. These are called aerosols.