Duke University professor unveils online calculator to determine classroom COVID-19 risk

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RALEIGH, N.C. (WNCN)- A Duke University professor has unveiled a new tool to help teachers and students have a better understanding of what they’re getting into when they step into the classroom.

“I am not that worried about the risk of the virus, in the controlled setting of my classroom with mask use, social distancing and good air ventilation, given my calculations,” said Prasad Kasibhatla professor of environmental chemistry at Duke’s Nicholas School of the Environment.

Kasibhatla is one week away from stepping back into the classroom at Duke University. Over the summer he began to wonder how much he was at risk in this fall.

“Nothing is risk free but let’s try to get some kind of sense of what our risk is and let’s see what can we do to mitigate this risk,” said Kasibhatla.

His new online risk calculator is meant to give an estimate of your chance of contracting COVID-19 in a classroom.

Users input the number of students, length of time in class and the size of the room.

“It gives you a rough estimate for risk but it also tells you [given certain measures], how much would your risk be mitigated and I think that’s the bigger value there,” the professor said.

Click here to visit the calculator.

When filling out the calculator, you should focus on adjusting the “Known Parameters” feature for your situation. The “Uncertain Parameters: Specific Range” should be left as-is unless the user knows the values to those specific categories. The uncertainty to those values is why the calculator provides an estimate of risk rather than a specific number.

Click here to learn more about those parameters to asses a more accurate risk.

Kasibhatla said we need to look at coronavirus with a layered approach. That means using masks, social distancing and other measures. He said the more those steps are taken, the more layers of protection you have from COVID-19.

“There’s been a lot of talk about cleaning and disinfecting and not as much talk about ventilation,” he said.

Kasibhatla said good ventilation is important to reduce the potential for COVID-19 spread indoors. This conversation about airborne particle spread is what the CDC, WHO and scientists across the country are increasingly considering. The new theory suggests smaller virus-carrying particles are expelled from a person when speaking or even singing. Those particles then spread farther than six feet and stay suspended in the air for longer periods of time.

Titled, “It is Time to Address Airborne Transmission of COVID-19”, an open letter to the WHO in July advocated new preventative measures to mitigate exposures through airborne transmission.

Even so, the professor said ultimately, there’s really only one thing up to you to determine.

“How much risk are you willing to take? That’s kind of a personal decision at some point,” said Kasibhatla.

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