By Nancy Dillon
New York Daily News
After an embarrassing incident last month, the CDC officially acknowledged Monday that coronavirus can spread through tiny aerosol droplets suspended in the air “for minutes to hours.”
The update means the Centers for Disease Control now admits “some infections can be spread by exposure to virus in small droplets and particles that can linger in the air” some time after an infected person moves away.
Coronavirus “may be able to infect people who are farther than 6 feet away from the person who is infected or after that person has left the space,” the CDC said Monday.
“This kind of spread is referred to as airborne transmission and is an important way that infections like tuberculosis, measles and chicken pox are spread,” the update said.
The agency said as much last month when it posted similar wording on its website before quickly retracting the statement, saying the update was posted by mistake.
Officials said they scrubbed the draft language because they were worried it wasn’t clear enough and might lead some to infer tiny droplets played a larger role in transmission than evidence so far suggests.
The main way coronavirus spreads is through larger droplets propelled through the air by the actions of an infected person. These larger droplets typically fall to the ground with gravity within a 6-foot radius, experts have said.
Droplets of different sizes enter the air when people “cough, sneeze, sing, talk or breathe,” the CDC said.
Evidence shows the risk of “airborne transmission” — as opposed to “droplet transmission” — is higher when an infected person breathes heavily, “for example while singing or exercising,” while in an “enclosed space” with “inadequate ventilation.”
“Under these circumstances, scientists believe that the amount of infectious smaller droplet and particles produced by the people with COVID-19 became concentrated enough to spread the virus to other people,” the CDC website said Monday.
“The people who were infected were in the same space during the same time or shortly after the person with COVID-19 had left,” it said.
Experts said Monday that the new CDC language means public health messaging needs an update.
“With airborne transmission of #covid19 being officially acknowledged by CDC in areas with poor ventilation, we need our public communications to be clear — 6 feet is not always enough,” Abraar Karan, a physician at Harvard Medical School, tweeted Monday.
“Several outbreak studies have suggested this for months — yet it is only now that this is being officially acknowledged,” he said. “This is one of my personal biggest issues (with) our epidemic response — despite having some data, we don’t move to act when benefits of doing so outweigh costs.”
Karan said he recommends people remember the “3 Cs” Japanese citizens are told to avoid: “close contact, closed spaces and crowds.”
“This can help stop super spreading events, a number of which are why we believe the virus is airborne in certain circumstances,” he tweeted.
The CDC also said Monday that “increasing evidence” suggests “children and adolescents can efficiently transmit” COVID-19.
It said that between July and August, four state health departments and the CDC investigated a COVID-19 outbreak that occurred during a three-week family gathering of five households in which a 13-year-old relative was patient zero.
Eleven family members became infected, the CDC said.
“Children and adolescents can serve as the source for COVID-19 outbreaks within families, even when their symptoms are mild,” the agency said Monday.
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