Scientists urge World Health Organization to acknowledge COVID-19 can spread in air

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More than 200 scientists are calling for the World Health Organization (WHO) and others to acknowledge that the coronavirus can spread through the air.

Two scientists from Australia and the U.S. wrote in the journal Clinical Infection Diseases that studies have shown “beyond any reasonable doubt that viruses are released during exhalation, talking and coughing in microdroplets are small enough to remain in the air.” With that being said, people in certain indoor conditions could be at greater risk of being infected than was previously thought.

The World Health Organization (WHO) has said for so long that COVID-19 spreads via larger respiratory droplets, most often when people cough or sneeze. Numerous times it has dismissed the possibility of airborne transmission, except for certain high-risk medical procedures, like when patients are first put on breathing machines.

Monday, the U.N health agency released a statement saying it was aware of the article and was reviewing it with technical experts.

The letter was endorsed by 239 scientists from a variety of fields. It stated that the issue of whether or not COVID-19 was airborne was of “heightened significance” as many countries stop restrictive lockdown measures.

The authors cited previous studies suggesting that germs closely related to the new virus were spread via airborne transmission. They said “there is every reason to expect” that the coronavirus behaves similarly. They also cited a Washington state choir practice and research about a poorly ventilated restaurant in Guangzhou, China, each of which raised the possibility of infections from airborne droplets.

“We are concerned that the lack of recognition of the risk of airborne transmission of COVID-19 and the lack of clear recommendations on the control measures against the airborne virus will have significant consequences,” the scientists wrote. “People may think they are fully protected by adhering to the current recommendations but in fact, additional airborne interventions are needed.”

Scientists around the world have been working furiously to understand the new virus. The U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention says it is thought to mainly jump from person to person through close contact but adds: “We are still learning about how the virus spreads.”

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