ALBUQUERQUE, N.M. (KRQE) – When you meet with your family for the holidays, you may want to use a humidifier and crack open a window. A team of professors from the University of New Mexico has been studying how COVID-19 spreads in the lungs and they also looked at if the state’s dry climate impacts the spread.

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Since the beginning of the pandemic, a team from UNM, Arizona State University, and Berkeley Lab have been building computer models to understand how COVID spreads through the lungs. “Your lung is enormous in surface area. It’s about half of a tennis court if you were to take all of that branching airways and spread it out flat,” said Melanie Moses, a professor of computer science and biology at UNM.

“So you can kind of think of this like a prairie fire. If you have lots of spots that are on fire at the same time and all growing all at once, you can build up a lot of virus, a lot of lung damage, and a lot of ability then to spread to someone else,” said Moses.

She says that’s why we need control of how much virus we have in our lungs. “An important component of controlling spread is to get the virus out of the air. That means open windows, you have fresh air coming in,” Moses said.

In New Mexico, a humidifier could help as Moses points out the state’s recent outbreak that happened at the same time as places that were much colder. “This airborne virus, the ability of the virus to hang in the air a long time depends on how cold it is and how dry it is. So we’re not super cold but we are super dry. This outbreak that we are undergoing right now right really took off in October when we all turned off our swamp coolers that were making the air more damp and also bringing in fresh air and turned on our heaters that really dry out the air,” Moses said.

She adds the study reinforces the importance of four main ways to get the pandemic under control: vaccinate and boost, wear masks, clean the air, and use at-home COVID tests. The team’s paper on their study has been accepted for publication and should come out soon.