WHO insists coronavirus not an airborne disease as experts raise possibility

The World Health Organization doubled down on its claim that the COVID-19 virus is not transmittable by air even as some experts suggest it is possible and as Western officials recommend that doctors and nurses take precautions.

“FACT: #COVID19 is NOT airborne,” WHO declared in a Saturday fact-check tweet. “The #coronavirus is mainly transmitted through droplets generated when an infected person coughs, sneezes, or speaks.”

But a study in the United States suggests otherwise. Carried out by more than a dozen health experts working with the National Institute for Health’s Rocky Mountain Laboratories, the study released this month found “aerosol … transmission of SARS-CoV-2 is plausible, since the virus can remain viable and infectious in aerosols for hours.”

One of the authors of the study that was published in the New England Journal of Medicine, Jamie Lloyd-Smith, a UCLA professor and infectious disease researcher, told the Los Angeles Times that singing may have spread virus through the air at a church in Washington state, where a choir rehearsal in early March was deemed the cause of a fatal coronavirus outbreak.

Polly Dubbel, a county communicable disease manager, told the Los Angeles Times that airborne transmission at the Mount Vernon Presbyterian Church was “all we can think of right now.”

She told the Washington Examiner: “It was a group of approximately 60 people just singing in close proximity to each other for over an hour — they weren’t eating, they weren’t shaking hands, they weren’t engaging in any other high-risk activities — and that’s all we know.”

One early March study in Singapore also suggested “that small virus-laden droplets may be displaced by airflows and deposited on equipment such as vents.” A non-peer-reviewed study out of China stated that the intensive care unit, the cardiac/coronary care unit, and general patient rooms in one Wuhan hospital and the patient hall inside another “had undetectable or low airborne SARS-CoV-2 concentration.”

The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention’s most recent disinfection guidelines state “based on what is currently known about the virus … spread from person-to-person happens most frequently among close contacts (within about 6 feet).” The guidance adds that “this type of transmission occurs via respiratory droplets, but disease transmission via infectious aerosols is currently uncertain.”

“It is unknown how long the air inside a room occupied by someone with confirmed COVID-19 remains potentially infectious” and so “taking measures to improve ventilation in an area or room where someone was ill or suspected to be ill with COVID-19 will help shorten the time it takes respiratory droplets to be removed from the air,” according to the CDC interim recommendations.

And a study published this weekend by researchers with the University of Nebraska Medical Center concluded that their results “suggest that COVID-19 patients, even those who are only mildly ill, may create aerosols of virus and contaminate surfaces that may pose a risk for transmission.” The researchers emphasized that “our findings DO NOT confirm that this virus spreads in an airborne fashion” but “the identification of genetic material from the virus that causes COVID-19 in air samples found in this study provides limited evidence that some potential for airborne transmission exists.”

Still, WHO insists there is insufficient evidence to show COVID-19 is transmittable as an airborne pathogen, making its case in a scientific brief published Sunday.

The organization said that “some scientific publications provide initial evidence on whether the COVID-19 virus can be detected in the air” and that “some news outlets have suggested that there has been airborne transmission.” But, WHO stressed, “these initial findings need to be interpreted carefully.”

WHO cast doubt on the U.S. study, stating the experiment used “a high-powered machine that does not reflect normal human cough conditions.” WHO said the finding of COVID-19 virus in aerosol particles for up to three hours “does not reflect a clinical setting in which aerosol-generating procedures are performed.” The organization dismissed it as “an experimentally-induced aerosol-generating procedure.”

Dr. Anthony Fauci, the director of the National Institute of Allergy and Infectious Diseases, cited the study earlier this month, telling reporters: “Is it possible that there is aerosol transmission? Yeah, it certainly is. … I’m not ruling out the possibility that it’s aerosol.”

WHO asserted that “airborne transmission may be possible in specific circumstances and settings in which procedures or support treatments that generate aerosols are performed,” including medical procedures such as intubation and disconnecting a patient from a ventilator. But “according to current evidence, COVID-19 virus is primarily transmitted between people through respiratory droplets and contact routes,” and “in an analysis of 75,465 COVID-19 cases in China, airborne transmission was not reported,” WHO added.

Reports show China has been misleading about the COVID-19 outbreak in the past.

In one instance, WHO tweeted in mid-January that “preliminary investigations conducted by the Chinese authorities have found no clear evidence of human-to-human transmission of the novel coronavirus (2019-nCoV) identified in Wuhan, China.” Chinese doctors knew around late December and early January that human-to-human transmission was almost certainly occurring, but the Chinese government silenced medical professionals who attempted to make evidence public.

The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention said, “Early reports suggest person-to-person transmission most commonly happens during close exposure to a person infected with COVID-19, primarily via respiratory droplets produced when the infected person coughs or sneezes.” The CDC also noted that “the contribution of small respirable particles, sometimes called aerosols or droplet nuclei, to close proximity transmission is currently uncertain.”

The CDC tells doctors and nurses that “special care should be taken to ensure that respirators are reserved for situations where respiratory protection is most important, such as performance of aerosol-generating procedures on suspected or confirmed COVID-19 patients” or caring for patients with other infections like tuberculosis or measles.

The European Centre for Disease Prevention and Control largely concurs with the CDC and notes that “although airborne transmission is not considered the principal transmission route, we recommend a cautious approach because of possible transmission through aerosols.”

Donald Milton, a professor and infectious disease aerobiologist at the University of Maryland, told NPR that “the WHO is being irresponsible in giving out that information” and that “this misinformation is dangerous.”

“I don’t think they know, and I think they are talking out of their hats” about whether COVID-19 could be spread through the air, Milton said.

Milton insisted, “Epidemiologists cannot tell the difference between droplet transmission and short-range aerosol transmission,” so because of the uncertainty about COVID-19, WHO should “employ the precautionary principle to recommend airborne precautions.”

The professor said the CDC “has it exactly right.”

WHO said over the weekend that it “carefully monitors emerging evidence about this critical topic and will update this scientific brief as more information becomes available.”

As of Monday afternoon, there were more than 775,000 confirmed coronavirus cases around the world and over 37,000 deaths tied to the infection, according to the Johns Hopkins University tracker. In the U.S., there were more than 159,000 cases and at least 2,945 deaths associated with the illness.

Akosua Boatemaa

I'm Yours Truly, Blogger Akosua Boatemaa. I'm here to feed Your eyes and Ears with Authentic News Updates.

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