At least 239 scientists from over 30 countries are urging the World Health Organization to address the airborne transmission of COVID-19, a scary development that may mean coronavirus can be contracted by just being in the same room with an infected person even if they are six feet away.
Most public health guidelines have focused on social distancing measures, hand hygiene and respiratory etiquette, including precautions to avoid droplets, especially because of the belief one needed to come into close contact with an infected person to contract the coronavirus.
However, the scientists now say there is growing evidence the virus can spread indoors through aerosols that linger in the air and can be infectious even in smaller quantities than previously thought.
In a forthcoming paper shared with The Washington Post ahead of publication this week in the journal Clinical Infectious Diseases and titled “It is Time to Address Airborne Transmission of Covid-19,” the 239 signatories to the paper say the potential of the virus to spread via airborne transmission has not been fully appreciated even by public health institutions such as the WHO.
“The fact that scientists resorted to a paper to pressure the WHO is unusual, analysts said, and is likely to renew questions about the WHO’s messaging,” The Post said.
“There is no reason for fear. It is not like the virus has changed. We think it has been transmitted this way all along,” said Jose Jimenez, a chemist at the University of Colorado who signed the paper. “Knowing about it helps target the measures to control the pandemic more accurately.”
Co-author Donald Milton, a professor of environmental health at the University of Maryland, said the WHO’s apparent reluctance to emphasize this aspect of the virus’s ability to spread is probably because of the difficulty identifying tiny infectious particles.
“It is easy to find virus on surfaces, on hands, in large drops,” he said in an emailed statement. “But, it is very hard to find much less culture virus from the air — it is a major technical challenge and naive investigators routinely fail to find it. . . .
“Because a person breathes 10,000 to 15,000 liters of air a day and it only takes one infectious dose in that volume of air, sampling 100 or even 1000 liters of air and not finding virus is meaningless.”