Evidence for probable aerosol transmission of SARS-CoV-2 in a poorly ventilated restaurant

Background: The role of aerosols in the transmission of SARS-CoV-2 remains debated. We analysed an outbreak involving three non-associated families in Restaurant X in Guangzhou, China, and assessed the possibility of aerosol transmission of SARS-CoV-2 and characterize the associated environmental conditions. Methods: We collected epidemiological data, obtained a video record and a patron seating-arrangement from the restaurant, and measured the dispersion of a warm tracer gas as a surrogate for exhaled droplets from the suspected index patient. Computer simulations were performed to simulate the spread of fine exhaled droplets. We compared the in-room location of subsequently infected cases and spread of the simulated virus-laden aerosol tracer. The ventilation rate was measured using the tracer decay method. Results: Three families (A, B, C), 10 members of which were subsequently found to have been infected with SARS-CoV-2 at this time, or previously, ate lunch at Restaurant X on Chinese New Year's Eve (January 24, 2020) at three neighboring tables. Subsequently, three members of family B and two members of family C became infected with SARS-CoV-2, whereas none of the waiters or 68 patrons at the remaining 15 tables became infected. During this occasion, the ventilation rate was 0.75-1.04 L/s per person. No close contact or fomite contact was observed, aside from back-to-back sitting by some patrons. Our results show that the infection distribution is consistent with a spread pattern representative of exhaled virus-laden aerosols. Conclusions: Aerosol transmission of SARS-CoV-2 due to poor ventilation may explain the community spread of COVID-19.