Fresno State team researching how viruses spread in buses

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Thursday, June 25, 2020
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Researchers say social distancing and facial coverings are no guarantees to stopping the spread inside the cabin of a bus.

FRESNO, Calif. (KFSN) -- A Fresno State research team is studying how viruses can spread aboard public transportation.

The study aims to understand air circulation patterns inside buses while researchers work to keep passengers safe.

"We're hoping this will give us some clear direction or guidelines on what can work and we're hoping we can do more studies to find out specific solutions for every type of public transportation mode," says Dr. Aly Tawfik with Fresno State.

The non-toxic smoke used for this experiment allows researchers to understand the movement of airflow and airborne contamination.

It's also helping to take a look at various approaches in mitigating potential virus circulation and infection.

Researchers say social distancing and facial coverings are no guarantees to stopping the spread inside the cabin of a bus.

"Masks decrease the odds of infection significantly but there are still odds. We see people, when they cough, they release the mask which makes everything worse," says Dr. Tawfik.

Buses from the Fresno County Rural Transit Authority in Selma were used for this experiment.

Researchers wanted to get a sense of how the virus might react to different HVAC systems.

In one bus, non-harmful viruses were actually spread around on various touchpads to study how they moved and got filtered throughout the cabin.

"HVAC systems do push viruses around. We should be concerned but it's part of what we're doing here today and to eliminate the spread of viruses throughout the bus. If someone sneezes on a bus, it'll be going into an HVAC system and eliminated there so it doesn't spread all around the rest of the bus," sais Dr. Juris Grasis with UC Merced.

As part of the study, engineers are also working on a UV filtration system that could not only revolutionize the public transportation industry but change the way we go to public places again.

"If we could get this to work in buses, then we could do this for any sort of public transportation throughout the state but we could use the same technology HVAC systems in buildings. And that way we could go back to eating in restaurants and that would be really exciting," says Dr. Grasis.

This $60,000 study is being funded by the California State University Transportation Consortium.