Masks and good ventilation work better than social distancing when it comes to reducing airborne particles of COVID-19 in classrooms, researchers have said.

A team from the University of Central Florida (UCF) has been looking at the best possible way to stop the spread to help prepare schools and universities for when they open up again in America.

Dr Michael Kinzel, an assistant professor in UCF’s Department of Mechanical and Aerospace Engineering and study co-author, said: “The research is important as it provides guidance on how we are understanding safety in indoor environments.

“The study finds that aerosol transmission routes do not display a need for six feet social distancing when masks are mandated. These results highlight that with masks, transmission probability does not decrease with increased physical distancing, which emphasizes how mask mandates may be key to increasing capacity in schools and other places.”

As part of the study, the researchers created a computer model of a classroom complete with students and a teacher. They then looked at airflow and how disease might transmit in that environment and calculated the risk for everybody in the room.

The scenario involved all students and the teacher wearing a mask and any one of them could potentially be infected.

Two different set-ups were played out. One involved a ventilated classroom and the other a non-ventilated room.

Masks were shown to be beneficial in both situations and a decent ventilation system was found to reduce the infection risk by 40 and 50 per cent when compared to no ventilation.

These results support advice given by the US Centers for Disease Control (CDC).

Dr Kinzel said: “If we compare infection probabilities when wearing masks, three feet of social distancing did not indicate an increase in infection probability with respect to six feet, which may provide evidence for schools and other businesses to safely operate through the rest of the pandemic.

“The results suggest exactly what the CDC is doing, that ventilation systems and mask usage are most important for preventing transmission and that social distancing would be the first thing to relax.”

The findings have been published in the Physics of Fluids journal.

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