Federal health officials updated public guidance about how the coronavirus spreads Friday beyond previously reported methods of transmission: inhaling minute respiratory droplets and aerosolized particles, as well as through contact with sprayed droplets or touching contaminated hands to one’s mouth, nose or eyes.
The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) now states explicitly that airborne virus can be inhaled at distances greater than six feet away from an infected individual. The new language, posted online, represents a change from the agency’s earlier position that most infections occurred through “close contact, not airborne transmission.”
In the initial days of the pandemic, infectious disease experts maintained that both the CDC and the World Health Organization had ignored research that suggested the coronavirus traveled in small, airborne particles. Many scientists have already supported the CDC’s decision to eliminate the phrase “close contact” which they contend had failed to capture the nuances of aerosol transmission. And given the new guidance, medical experts say updated standards should be issued by OSHA (the Occupational Safety and Health Administration) to address potential hazards in the workplace.
Current protocol related to ventilation in the workplace and for indoor environments may also require more stringent guidelines to ensure greater safety.
In an interview with one New York Times reporter, Donald Milton, an aerosol scientist at the University of Maryland, agreed that federal officials immediately address the need for updated workplace guidelines.
“We need better focus on good respirators for people who have to be close to other people for long periods of time,” Milton said. “A surgical mask, even if it’s tucked in on the edges, is still not really going to give you enough protection if you’re in a meatpacking plant elbow to elbow all day long with other people.”
Experts add that health care workers, bus drivers and others may similarly require respirators and warn the public that in poorly ventilated environments, the virus will build up in the air, therefore exposing everyone in the respective room.