UMD researchers using machine to study how people spread COVID-19

These days at the University of Maryland, they’re saying “gesundheit” for much more than sneezes.

In fact, “Gesundheit II” is the name of a machine being used to study how people spread COVID-19, according to Dr. Donald Milton, a professor at the University of Maryland School of Public Health and the creator of the device.

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Here’s how it works: Gesundheit II has a large cone attached to one end, which coronavirus patients sit in front of for two 30-minute periods. During the first one, they wear a mask while – at different points – they breathe normally, they shout “go Terps,” and they also sing happy birthday. Then they take a break before coming back and doing it all over again with no mask.

Using the machine, researchers can tell how much the patients contaminate both the cone and the air that goes through the cone. And they also collect other information from nasal swabs, saliva specimens, blood samples, and swabs of participants cell phones.

“What we’re hoping to find out is, is everybody the same in terms of how much virus they shed in the air or are some people shedding a lot more virus and are potentially much more contagious than others? And how well do masks work as source control? Do surgical masks and homemade masks work equivalently or is one a lot better than the other?,” Milton said.

Interestingly, he designed the machine more than a decade ago for other purposes, but it just so happens to work perfectly for studying COVID-19 too.

“Doing this now is a whole lot harder than it was doing it last year with just regular old coronaviruses and rhinoviruses and flu,” Milton said Monday. “Now we’re all wearing powered air purifying respirators and full gowns and double gloves,” and they’re also taking other high-tech precautions.

Milton expects the first batch of results from his study to be available within the next few weeks.