A group of scientists will publish an open letter to the World Health Organization (WHO) in the coming days with an alarming claim: The novel virus is airborne.
And this means that it can linger in the air long enough and in enough quantity to infect others. Isn’t it totally creepy!
The letter will also allegedly accuse the WHO of failing to issue appropriate warnings about the risk of contracting coronavirus via airborne transmission. The scientists are calling on the United Nations health agency to revise its recommendations and plan to publish their letter in Clinical Infectious Diseases.
The letter has been signed by 239 researchers from 32 countries and include experts in virology, aerosol physics, flow dynamics, exposure and epidemiology, medicine, and building engineering.
Currently, the WHO and the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) only warn about transmission from inhaling small droplets produced when infected people cough, sneeze or speak, or from touching a contaminated surface and then touching your eyes, nose or mouth.
In interim guidance on infection prevention and control published on June 29, the WHO contends that airborne transmission can occur when health care workers perform medical procedures that produce aerosols, which are extremely small respiratory droplets.
The CDC, meanwhile, has stated that the coronavirus touching infected surfaces is not the primary way the virus spreads.
Nonetheless the experts argue that this guidance that warns about the two types of transmission ignores the evidence that airborne transmission also plays a significant role in the virus’s spread.
In the letter, the scientists purportedly highlight multiple studies that they say demonstrate that aerosols can hang in the air for long periods of time and float dozens of feet. This makes poorly ventilated rooms, buses, and other confined spaces dangerous, even if people keep the recommended six feet of distance from one another.
“We are 100 percent sure about this,” explains Lidia Morawska. “Numerous health authorities currently focus on hand washing, maintaining social distancing, and droplet precautions,” Morawska said in the press release. “Hand washing and social distancing are appropriate, but it is view, insufficient to provide protection from virus-carrying respiratory microdroplets released into the air by infected people.”
Experts said that airborne transmission appears to be the only way to explain several “super spreading” events.
The WHO said that a large majority of the group of more than 30 international experts advising the UN agency has “not judged the existing evidence sufficiently convincing to consider airborne transmission as having an important role in COVID-19 spread.”
Airborne transmission measures
Morawska said that measures to mitigate airborne transmission include:
- providing sufficient and effective ventilation, such as supplying clean outdoor air and minimizing recirculated air, particularly in public buildings, workplaces, schools, hospitals, and aged care homes.
- Supplementing general ventilation with infection controls, including local exhaust, high efficiency air filtration, and germicidal ultraviolet lights.
- Avoid overcrowding, especially in public transport and buildings.
These measures are practical and can be easily implemented and many are not costly. For example, simple steps such as opening both doors and windows can dramatically increase air flow rates in many buildings.