Earlier this month, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention updated its website to officially acknowledge the role that airborne transmission plays in the spread of SARS-CoV-2, the virus that causes COVID-19.
The novel coronavirus is most commonly transmitted through large respiratory droplets that are released when a person coughs or sneezes and generally land within six feet of an infected individual. However, recent evidence shows that the virus can also be aerosolized into smaller particles, spread through the air, and breathed into the lungs. This means that maintaining a distance of six feet may not be sufficient to stop the spread of COVID-19 under certain circumstances.
A study from the University of Florida found that airborne SARS-CoV-2 particles were present up to 16 feet away from infected hospital patients. For this reason, experts have recommended that public buildings, such as schools, circulate fresh air between four and six times each hour.
On October 5, the CDC released a media statement which noted that airborne transmission, while not common, can happen in poorly ventilated or enclosed areas—especially when activities that cause heavier breathing are involved.
An excerpt from the media release states
“CDC continues to believe, based on current science, that people are more likely to become infected the longer and closer they are to a person with COVID-19. Today’s update acknowledges the existence of some published reports showing limited, uncommon circumstances where people with COVID-19 infected others who were more than 6 feet away or shortly after the COVID-19-positive person left an area.”
The CDC said its recommendations and guidelines for reducing virus transmission were thoroughly reviewed and remain unchanged. These guidelines include staying at least 6 feet away from others, wearing a mask that covers both nose and mouth, washing hands frequently, cleaning surfaces and staying home when sick.
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