SELMA, California (KSEE) — COVID-19 research is more than just a race for a vaccine. A team from Fresno State is working to find out how fast the virus can spread on a bus.

The Fresno State Transportation Institute (FSTI) wants to use the findings to help mitigate the virus’ spread.

On Wednesday, FSTI researchers were setting off non-toxic candles on Fresno County Rural Transit Authority buses. With the candles’ smoke, the team simulated particles discharged by someone breathing, as well as by someone coughing and sneezing.

The idea is to find out how fast a virus such as COVID-19 could spread. Depending on the bus’ ventilation system, the smoke could fill every part of the bus between 11 and 30 seconds.

Aside from looking at airflow, the team is testing different technologies and filters that would mitigate COVID-19 spread. In some tests, bacteria — that isn’t harmful to humans — was used to see how it is filtered in the ventilation systems.

“[We’re also trying to find] the most cost efficient [methods], so, what would be most affordable for all the transit agencies across the nation to adopt to make public transportation safer for travelers,” said Dr. Aly Tawfik, FSTI’s director. “We hope we will find a way to make it safer for everyone.”

Tawfik hopes to apply team’s findings to other settings, like trains. The bigger goal is to have data that can be shared to bus manufacturers, as well as state and national transportation agencies.

“We’re not the proprietors of [this data]. We believe it should be used by anybody who wants to take advantage of it,” said Moses Steits, general manager for the Fresno County Rural Transit Agency.

Dr. Juris Grasis, a virologist from UC Merced who is on the research team, said the data will have a bigger reach than just public transportation.

“Hopefully, we can take this information and use the same sort of technology for HVAC systems in commercial buildings and residential buildings. Hopefully we can get back somewhat a normal life if we can eliminate viruses this way,” said Grasis.

Tawfik said he hopes to have preliminary results within weeks.

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