Over 6 months have passed since Covid-19 first emerged, but there’s still so much we don’t know about the deadly virus.
When the virus first started spreading, some governments, including the Singaporean and US authorities, asked its citizens to only wear masks if they were ill.
But then, a few months later, they made a u-turn and asked their citizens to wear masks in public, after evidence that asymptomatic patients can spread the disease emerged.
Now some scientists are saying that wearing masks outdoors may not be sufficient; we may need to start wearing them indoors.
Hundreds of Scientists Claim Coronavirus is Airborne & Call for WHO to Change Recommendations
239 scientists in 32 countries have presented evidence to the World Health Organisation (WHO) that smaller particles in the air can infect people and are urging the agency to revise its recommendations, reported The New York Times.
In its latest update on the coronavirus, WHO said that airborne transmission of the virus is possible only after medical procedures that produce aerosols, or droplets smaller than 5 microns. (A micron is equal to one-millionth of a meter.)
In other words, the health agency is saying it’s unlikely.
WHO has always said that the coronavirus spreads primarily through small droplets from the nose or mouth, which are expelled when an infected person coughs, sneezes, or speaks, and then falls quickly to the floor.
But scientists are disputing this claim.
In their open letter to WHO, experts said that the coronavirus is borne through the air and can infect people when inhaled.
It’s either carried by large droplets that whizz through the air after someone coughs or sneezes, or by much smaller exhaled droplets that may glide the length of a room.
So, if this is true, what would change?
More Precautionary Measures
If the virus does linger in the air, this would mean that people would have to take additional precautions while indoors or in poorly ventilated areas.
For one, masks might be needed indoors, though we’re not sure how the government would enforce that unless a safe distancing ambassador is assigned to stare at us while we work.
Secondly, health care workers caring for Covid-19 patients might need N95 masks that filter out even the smallest respiratory droplets.
Schools, nursing homes, and businesses might need to revamp their ventilation systems to minimize recirculating air.
Slow in Updating Its Guidelines
In response, WHO said that evidence for the virus being airborne was not convincing.
“Especially in the last couple of months, we have been stating several times that we consider airborne transmission as possible but certainly not supported by solid or even clear evidence”, said Dr Benedetta Allegranzi, the WHO’s technical lead of infection prevention and control.
However, the WHO may be hesitant to revise its recommendations because of its outdated view of what airborne viruses are.
For instance, the WHO makes an artificial distinction between tiny aerosols and larger droplets, even though infected people produce both.
Secondly, the WHO is relying on an outdated definition of airborne viruses. They believe that all airborne viruses have to be highly infectious and travel long distances.
The coronavirus doesn’t behave this way. It’s most infectious when people are in prolonged contact at close range, especially indoors.
As The New York Times reported, WHO is bound by a rigid view of scientific evidence and is slow in updating its guidelines.
It took some time to change its stance on healthy people wearing masks, even after several countries like Singapore and the US had revised their recommendations.
So, don’t be surprised if the WHO later concedes that the coronavirus is indeed airborne.
The problem is that this admission might come in 2025.
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