BestLife article by Kali Coleman
Almost everything we do outside the house carries some level of coronavirus risk. However, you may be putting yourself at more risk than you realize without even thinking twice. The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) recommends wearing a mask whenever you’re riding in a car with people outside your household, but that’s not the only precaution you should be taking. According to a new study, if you’re driving with all your windows rolled up while someone else is in the car, you may be putting yourself at higher risk for contracting COVID. Read on to find out how you can lower your risk level.
A study found that driving with all your windows closed could lead to COVID spread.
The study—which was published in the Science Advances journal on Dec. 4—was conducted by a team of Brown University researchers who used computer models to simulate airflow inside a car that was loosely based on a Toyota Prius with various combinations of windows opened and closed. They found that the combination that led to the highest COVID risk was having all four windows closed.
“Driving around with the windows up and the air conditioning or heat on is definitely the worst scenario, according to our computer simulations,” Asimanshu Das, the study’s co-lead author and a graduate student at Brown University, said in a statement.
And your seating arrangement could also be putting you at higher risk.
The study also noted that where you sit in the car may be important, too. Researchers modeled the car as if two people were inside, one in the driver’s seat and a passenger in the back seat on the opposite side from the driver. While this is still less than the recommended six feet of distance, this seating arrangement maximizes the distance between the two people—which could make all the difference in whether COVID spreads from one person to the other.
Overall, having just one or two windows down is better than having none down.
Das said that the “best scenario” was clearly having all four windows down, but even “having one or two open was far better than having them all closed,” he noted. This is because having some air escape from the car increases the number of air changes per hour, which helps reduce the overall concentration of possible viral particles lingering in the car.
But which windows you open matters if you’re only opening a few.
Researchers noted that air usually enters the car through the back windows and exits through the front windows because air pressure near the back windows tends to be higher. So despite what you may think, if you’re opening only two windows, opening the two right next to each occupant is actually not as helpful as opening the two opposite each occupant.
“When the windows opposite the occupants are open, you get a flow that enters the car behind the driver, sweeps across the cabin behind the passenger and then goes out the passenger-side front window,” Kenny Breuer, PhD, a professor of engineering at Brown University and a senior author of the research, said in a statement. “That pattern helps to reduce cross-contamination between the driver and passenger.” And for more ways to protect yourself in the car, Dr. Fauci Says He Does This Every Time He Rides in a Car Amid COVID.