The US Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) has finally agreed that COVID-19 is airborne and can spread further than the recommended 6-feet distancing. The health agency now acknowledged that the coronavirus can transmit to people via aerosols and respiratory droplets, and that face masks and outdoor activities are safer than indoor ones for preventing the disease.
The CDC had earlier issued guidance stating that coronavirus was not airborne, but it has since deleted the guidance and created a new website section which noted that “COVID-19 can sometimes be spread by airborne transmission.” The federal agency states that the disease can linger in the air after an infected person leaves a spot, invariably infecting others who come to the spot and breathe in air contaminated with the aerosolized virus.
“Some infections can be spread by exposure to the virus in small droplets and particles that can linger in the air for minutes to hours,” CDC wrote in its update. “These viruses may be able to infect people who are further than 6 feet away from the person who is infected or after that person has left the space.”
CDC noted that the major means of COVID-19 transmission is respiratory droplets which are bigger and released when people sneeze or cough. People get infected with the droplets when they make contact with the nose and eyes and any mucous membrane. However, aerosols are way smaller and lighter and can remain suspended in the air for hours, causing infection to anyone that breathes or inhales it.
“There is evidence that under certain conditions, people with COVID-19 seem to have infected others who were more than 6 feet away,” the CDC explained. “These transmissions occurred within enclosed spaces that had inadequate ventilation. Sometimes the infected person was breathing heavily, for example, while singing or exercising.”
In enclosed spaces, the CDC said it is possible for someone to get infected with the virus after another infected individual had left the space.
Several epidemiologists and aerobiologists have expressed their satisfaction with the CDC’s acknowledgment, noting the agreement would go to enforce the need for prevention using face masks, physical distancing, and personal hygiene.
“This is exactly what most of us have said from the beginning — that the primary way this virus spreads is through droplet transmission, and when there is airborne transmission, it’s in specific circumstances,” said Dr. Amesh Adalja, an infectious disease expert and senior scholar at Johns Hopkins University Center for Health Security.
According to Adalja, the CDC’s acknowledgment that coronavirus is airborne does not change the rhetorics about how the disease spreads, it only adds to it.