What is in common between COVID-19 and aliens? A 1961 formula, designed for extraterrestrial life, has been reformulated to know how the coronavirus could affect us
It sounds like a science fiction book, but we can’t deny that 2020 is being a tremendously dystopian year. A famous equation used to seek extraterrestrial life has inspired a new model that to calculate the odds of getting COVID-19. This new model (basically the equation with several multiplied terms) estimates the risk of transmission through the air.
Researchers are very excited about what they have discovered, as historically this equation (known as Drake’s equation) served to calculate the chances of finding intelligent extraterrestrial life in our own galaxy. On this occasion, however, it has been used for an issue that concerns us and touches us ‘a little more closely’, so to speak.
Researchers used Drake’s famous formula as an example to predict the number of intelligent civilizations in our galaxy, the Milky Way. It was calculated in 1961 by American astronomer Frank Drake and is based on only seven variables, such as the number of stars formed per year, the proportion of stars with planets, the number of planets in the habitable zone, etc.
The new model named CAT (Contagion Airborne Transmission) divides the contagion process into three stages: the expulsion of particles from the virus into the air, the dispersion of these particles and their inhalation by a susceptible person.
The formula consists of 10 COVID-19 transmission variables, including breathing rate, the amount of the virus, and the amount of time the person is exposed to the virus.
As the researchers claim, it is impossible to calculate the exact risk of contracting the virus as many parameters are inaccurate, such as the number of viruses needed for one to get sick.
“What really needs to happen for one to get infected? If we can visualize this process more clearly and in a quantitative manner, we can make better decisions about which activities to resume and which to avoid,” explains study co-author Rajat Mittal, a professor in the Department of Mechanical Engineering from the Johns Hopkins Institute.
However, the formula has revealed several significant trends in the contagion process. And one of them is that masks are necessary. Between the two people wearing N95 masks, the risk of contagion is reduced by a factor of 400. At the same time, surgical masks decrease the risk by 10, and fabric masks by 7 times.
If an infected person is in an enclosed space and engages in intense physical activities, such as in a gym, the risk of getting infected increases substantially by a factor of 200 compared to a scenario where people don’t exercise.
When it comes to maintaining a safe distance, scientists found that the risk of transmission of the virus depends directly on distance. “If you double your distance, it usually doubles your protection,” says the study co-author, published in the journal Physics of Fluids.
Even with certain uncertainties, researchers believe that their model demonstrates how the chances of getting coronavirus depend on our behavior. It is one of the first simple models of infectious diseases that are easy for an ordinary person to understand as well as a virologist specialist, scientists believe.