CDC acknowledges importance of air ventilation, farther spread of COVID-19 particles

Grant Boone
September 22, 2020

"There is growing evidence that droplets and airborne particles can remain suspended in the air and be breathed in by others, and travel distances beyond 6 feet (for example, during choir practice, in restaurants, or in fitness classes)", the CDC's update said.

Dr. Abraar Karan, a physician at Harvard Medical School working on the COVID-19 response in MA, tweeted that CDC deeming aerosols one of the "common routes of spread" of the virus" was "a significant shift. The move was lauded by scientists who have for months argued that aerosols account for a significant share of coronavirus transmission.

The updated CDC page had also changed language around asymptomatic transmission, shifting from saying "some people without symptoms may be able to spread the virus" to saying "people who are infected but do not show symptoms can spread the virus to others". Those droplets may land in the noses and mouths of other people within about six feet, potentially seeding a new infection. The same day that these new guidelines on airborne risk came out, the CDC also walked back its previous recommendation that not everyone exposed to the virus needs to get tested - a recommendation that was reportedly made over the heads of actual CDC scientists.

The CDC didn't immediately respond to a request for comment.

The now-withdrawn guidance, posted on the agency's website on Friday, recommended people use air purifiers to reduce airborne germs indoors to limit the spread of the disease.

Respiratory droplets are larger and fall to the ground quickly - hence the 6-feet rule that's generally considered safe for social distancing amid the pandemic.

The CDC page now says that COVID-19 is thought to spread mainly between people in close contact. Now you can count the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention among the agents of confusion, as it has abruptly removed previously published guidance about how the virus spreads through the air.

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The CDC on Monday deleted language from its website which stated it is "possible" for the virus to spread via airborne transmission, despite the fact that many health experts have stated that the virus can be spread in that manner.

Earlier in the week, CDC Director Robert Redfield told Congress that face masks were "more guaranteed to protect" against the virus than the vaccine, which he said wouldn't be available until late in 2021.

Independent researchers said Monday that they were confused by the sudden reversal.

The World Health Organization changed their guidance and noted the prevalence of air transmission, and those particles lingering in the air, earlier this summer in July.

"They've been paying attention and moving in response to research, so I'm glad to see that they're continuing and that there's nobody getting in the way", he said. Friday's updated guidance described the song as one of the activities that could produce contaminating aerosols. "In general, the more closely a person with COVID-19 interacts with others and the longer that interaction, the higher the risk of COVID-19 spread".

"When viruses are carried on droplets, these particles are relatively large, so they can't pass through even cloth facial coverings very well", Jaimie Meyer, MD, a Yale Medicine infectious disease specialist and associate professor at Yale School of Medicine, explained to Eat This, Not That! "The evidence is accumulating", Milton wrote in an e-mail.

Ryan explained that people who are in a small indoor area with poor ventilation can become infected through aerosol-based transmission. The CDC said coronavirus information has been viewed on its websites more than 1.7 billion times.

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