In an open letter to the World Health Organization, 239 experts outlined evidence suggesting that the coronavirus is airborne, The New York Times reported. The message, which is set to be published in Clinical Infectious Diseases, urges the agency to revise its recommendations, which currently suggest that airborne transmission of COVID-19 is only possible following medical procedures that create aerosols.
Linsey Marr, an expert in airborne transmission of viruses at Virginia Tech, claims that the WHO is relying on outdated information on aerosols and airborne transmission. Marr claimed that the WHO data used hospital studies that showed low levels of airborne coronavirus particles and said that most buildings have lower air exchange rates, which leads to higher levels of particle accumulation.
Marr also noted it has long been known that coughing and talking can create aerosols and suggested that airborne transmission poses the most significant risk within indoor environments.
Dr. Benedetta Allegranzi, the WHO’s technical lead on infection control, said that while the organization considers airborne transmission a possibility, the process is “not supported by solid or even clear evidence.”
As reported by The Guardian, Paul Hunter, a professor in medicine at the University of East Anglia and a member of the WHO’s infection prevention committee, stood by the organization’s current advice, which focuses on the importance of hand-washing to prevent COVID-19 infection.
“Aerosol transmission can occur but it probably isn’t that important in the grand scheme of things. It’s all about droplets. Controlling airborne transmission isn’t going to do that much to control the spread of Covid-19. It’s going to impose unnecessary burdens, particularly in countries where they don’t have enough trained staff or resources already.”
Mary-Louise McLaws, a WHO committee member and epidemiologist at the University of New South Wales in Sydney, expressed frustration at the organization’s resistance to the suggestion that coronavirus is airborne.
“I do get frustrated about the issues of airflow and sizing of particles, absolutely. If we started revisiting airflow, we would have to be prepared to change a lot of what we do.”
Previous data from Wuhan University suggested that coronavirus can linger in the air in crowded spaces, such as supermarkets, hospital toilets, and residential buildings. However, the study stopped short of concluding that people could get sick from the particles.
Infectious disease expert Michael Osterholm previously appeared on Joe Rogan’s podcast, The Joe Rogan Experience, and suggested that breathing airborne coronavirus particles is likely the primary way it is transmitted. Osterholm also pushed back on the suggestion that washing your hands is an effective way of avoiding the virus and said this advice is, for the most part, nonsense.