The World Health Organization has expanded its coronavirus guidance to include the possibility of airborne transmission.
The update came Thursday after an open letter signed by more than 200 scientists pressed the agency this week to acknowledge the potential role that tiny droplets, or aerosols, play in airborne transmissions among people in crowded, indoor settings for prolonged periods of time.
The WHO said in its updated review of the evidence.
“There have been reported outbreaks of COVID-19 in some closed settings, such as restaurants, nightclubs, places of worship or places of work where people may be shouting, talking, or singing.
In these outbreaks, aerosol transmission, particularly in these indoor locations where there are crowded and inadequately ventilated spaces where infected persons spend long periods of time with others, cannot be ruled out.”
The agency said more research is
“urgently needed to investigate such instances and assess their significance for transmission of COVID-19.”
Experts still maintain that the new guidance is notable, aerosols are likely to be just a small part of how the coronavirus spreads and that close contact with an infected person is still the most common source of transmission.
Cindy Prins, an epidemiologist at the University of Florida in Gainesville said,
“You can put all these definitions in place, but we’ve always been concerned about spread when people are in small spaces, indoors, for long periods of time.”
With droplet transmission, it’s thought that virus-filled particles can be ejected from the mouth or the nose when a person speaks, coughs or sneezes. The droplets can be flung through the air — up to 6 feet from the infected person — but then drop to the ground or onto other surfaces fairly quickly .
Airborne transmission occurs when tiny aerosol particles are expelled by talking, sneezing or coughing but then remain suspended in the air. The minuscule particles can also travel away from an infected person by floating on air currents.
Measles, chickenpox and tuberculosis are other diseases that can spread through airborne transmission.
When asked about airborne spread of coronavirus, Dr. Anthony Fauci, director of the National Institute of Allergy and Infectious Diseases said,
“There’s no solid evidence that that type of transmission is occurring.”
We can’t rule it out completely.”
Dr. Carlos del Rio, executive associate dean of the Emory University School of Medicine in Atlanta, said,
“If I’m in a crowded room with a bunch of infected people, there’s bound to be aerosol transmission there, but if I’m in a big room or I’m outside and someone is walking nearby, I’m not too worried about aerosols.”
And whether it’s mandated or not, people should wear masks in public, del Rio said.
“Everyone should wear a mask. We have to get it across to people that this is not an option.”
(via NBC News)