U.S. CDC backtracks on coronavirus airborne transmission guidance

Grant Boone
September 22, 2020

As most USA states head in the wrong direction with coronavirus, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention has retracted key information about how the virus spreads.

On Friday, the CDC had said in an update to its website that in addition to spreading between people in close contact, the novel coronavirus could spread through airborne particles that can linger in the air and travel more than six feet, in settings such as restaurants, fitness classes and choir practices. "CDC now says SARS-CoV-2 virus is being spread in aerosols", tweeted Kimberly Prather, a professor at UC San Diego's Scripps Institution of Oceanography and in the university's department of chemistry and biochemistry.

The latest news comes after the CDC on August 24 published guidance stating that it wasn't necessary to test people without COVID-19 symptoms for the disease, even if they had been exposed to the virus. The CDC changed its official guidance to note that aerosols are "thought to be the main way the virus spreads" and to warn that badly ventilated indoor spaces are particularly risky.

Presently, the agency's guidance says the virus mainly spreads from person-to-person through respiratory droplets which can land in the mouth or nose of people nearby.

After experts applauded the guidance as an important and appropriate step given the strong evidence of airborne coronavirus transmission, the CDC on Monday morning edited its website and deleted the reference to aerosols-a move commentators said will only serve to further undermine trust in the information coming out of America's public health agencies.

Previously, the CDC had suggested maintaining a physical distance of six feet, disinfecting surfaces, regularly washing hands, and using masks as ways to curb the spread of the virus and prevent one from getting infected.

"In general, indoor environments without good ventilation increase this risk", the guidance read.

These particles can cause infection when "inhaled into the nose, mouth, airways, and lungs", it says.

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"It is possible that COVID-19 may spread through the droplets and airborne particles that are formed when a person who has COVID-19 coughs, sneezes, sings, talks, or breathes", the website continues.

The CDC shifted its guidelines on Friday, but the change was not widely noticed until a CNN report on Sunday.

"A draft version of proposed changes to these recommendations was posted in error to the agency's official website".

"This was totally the CDC's doing", the official said. "Then they can understand, and many more will comply", Jimenez said.

A White House spokesman described the vetting as necessary to protect public health, and other administration officials said it was standard procedure. Even before this recent CDC guideline take-back, Dr. Feigl-Ding was clearly frustrated with the way the organization appears to be succumbing to politicization of what is clearly an issue of a large and growing body of scientific evidence and fact.

Prather said she "was beginning to think I would never see the day".

Similarly, Trump last week insisted the agency's director, Robert Redfield, made a "mistake" when he predicted that most Americans wouldn't have access to a vaccine until the middle of next year.

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