Why are people worried if coronavirus is “airborne”? Is it? Why does it matter?
For the most part, coronavirus is thought to be spread through “respiratory droplets.” These are virus-filled particles that are expelled from a sick individual when coughing, or even just talking, and generally fall out of the air relatively quickly and nearby the person who expels them. In contrast, “aerosols” are microscopic virus-packed particles that are also expelled, but that are small enough to remain suspended in the air. If coronavirus could spread through aerosol transmission as some other illnesses do (measles and tuberculosis, which can remain in the air for 2 hours and 6 hours, respectively), we would need to adjust our methods of prevention in order to continue to decrease the spread of disease. Recently, 239 researches sent an open letter to the WHO asking for further investigation and guidance about the possibility of aerosol transmission. The letter states:
“Most public health organizations, including the WHO, do not recognize airborne transmission except for aerosol-generating procedures performed in healthcare settings. Hand-washing and social distancing are appropriate, but in our view, insufficient to provide protection from virus-carrying respiratory microdroplets released into the air by infected people.”
At a press conference, Dr. Benedetta Allegranzi, WHO’s technical lead for infection prevention and control responded, “There is some evidence emerging but is not definitive. The possibility of airborne transmission in public settings, especially in very specific conditions — crowded, closed, poorly ventilated settings — cannot be ruled out. However, the evidence needs to be gathered and interpreted.”
So whether or not it can be spread by aerosols remains to be determined, however those who believe that it is a relatively important method recommend individuals follow these precautions to protect themselves:
– wear a mask when you leave your home if you are going to be around other people
– avoid being in crowded spaces, whether indoors or outdoors, especially for a prolonged period of time
– if you are in a crowded space, do your best to keep your distance of AT LEAST 6 feet
In order to make crowded public spaces safer if aerosol transmission is possible, in addition to the above individual precautions, ventilation and possibly air filtration systems in buildings will need to be improved and effective modes of sanitation such as UV light will need to be used in highly trafficked and crowded areas. You can read more here.