As scientists learn more about COVID-19, their findings take a while to make their way to the general public. Now, months after being discovered, one important observation has made its way into CDC’s list of ways you can catch coronavirus—and it will change the way you protect yourself. “The United States Centers for Disease Control and Prevention updated guidance on its website to say coronavirus can commonly spread ‘through respiratory droplets or small particles, such as those in aerosols,’ which are produced even when a person breathes,” reports CNN. This means the virus can hang in the air indoors, waiting for you. Read on, and to protect your health and the health of others, don’t miss these Sure Signs You’ve Already Had Coronavirus.
COVID-19 Can Remain Suspended in the Air
“Previously, the CDC page said that Covid-19 was thought to spread mainly between people in close contact—about 6 feet (approximately 1.8 meters)—and ‘through respiratory droplets produced when an infected person coughs, sneezes or talks,'” says the network.
Now the page reads: “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). In general, indoor environments without good ventilation increase this risk.”
“How easily a virus spreads from person to person can vary,” the CDC goes on. “Airborne viruses, including COVID-19, are among the most contagious and easily spread. Some viruses are highly contagious, like measles, while other viruses do not spread as easily. The virus that causes COVID-19 appears to spread more efficiently than influenza, but not as efficiently as measles, which is highly contagious. 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.”
Earlier in June, a large team of international doctors around the world issued a game-changing statement to the World Health Organization: COVID-19 is, in fact, airborne. The World Health Organization confirmed then that airborne transmission of the novel coronavirus can occur during medical procedures that generate aerosols—and in other closed settings, including bars, restaurants, and places of worship, aerosol spread “cannot be ruled out.”
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How to Avoid COVID-19
Jaimie Meyer, MD, a Yale Medicine infectious disease specialist and associate professor at Yale School of Medicine, explains that experts have understood for a while now that COVID-19 can be airborne but there had been debate earlier in the pandemic about how important this was in terms of infection spreading in the community. To appreciate the debate, it is important to understand exactly what airborne spread means and why it matters.
“When viruses are carried on droplets, these particles are relatively large, so they can’t pass through even cloth facial coverings very well,” she explains. These droplets are also relatively heavy, so they fall to the ground quickly. This is why droplet-borne viruses are primarily passed from person to person when they are in close contact (i.e. within 6 feet). “Most scientific evidence supports that COVID-19 is primarily carried on droplets, which is why social distancing and mask-wearing work,” she maintains.
In contrast, truly airborne diseases—like tuberculosis or measles—are carried on much smaller particles that can hang in the air for longer periods of time, known as aerosols. “Aerosols are produced, like a spray, when someone coughs or sneezes, or during procedures like inserting a breathing tube or giving a breathing treatment. These smaller particles more easily pass through cloth face coverings but do not pass as well through surgical masks or N95 respirators, though these are often in limited supply and thus reserved for healthcare workers,” Dr. Meyer explains.
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Outdoors Is Better Than Indoors
The CDC’s new addition makes something Dr. Anthony Fauci, the nation’s top infectious disease doctor, has been saying for months even more important: “outdoors is better than indoors.” Avoid indoor spaces with people you aren’t sheltering with, and avoid crowds. And to get through this pandemic at your healthiest, don’t miss these 35 Places You’re Most Likely to Catch Coronavirus.
Update 9/22/20: After publication of this story, the CDC deleted its guidance from its website about the airborne spread of COVID-19, saying they posted it by mistake. “A draft version of proposed changes to these recommendations was posted in error to the agency’s official website. CDC is currently updating its recommendations regarding airborne transmission of SARS-CoV-2 (the virus that causes COVID-19). Once this process has been completed, the update language will be posted,” Jason McDonald, a CDC spokesman, said in a response emailed to CNN. Meanwhile, Dr. Anthony Fauci, the nation’s top infectious disease expert, confirmed the very next day that the coronavirus is indeed airborne—see here for his remarks.