WHO admits AIRBORNE spread of coronavirus ‘cannot be ruled out’ after more than 200 scientists pushed the agency to alter its guidance
- The WHO had long dismissed the prospect of coronavirus spreading in the air
- But more than 200 researchers wrote this week that studies show ‘beyond any reasonable doubt’ that airborne spread is happening
- In response, the health agency now says airborne spread is possible
- Still, WHO says other methods of transmission could have been to blame
The World Health Organization is acknowledging the possibility that COVID-19 might be spread in the air under certain conditions — after more than 200 scientists urged the agency to do so.
In an open letter published this week in a journal, two scientists from Australia and the U.S. wrote that studies have shown ‘beyond any reasonable doubt that viruses are released during exhalation, talking and coughing in microdroplets small enough to remain aloft in the air.’
The researchers, along with more than 200 others, appealed for national and international authorities, including WHO, to adopt more stringent protective measures.
More than 200 scientists have written that airborne spread of coronavirus is happening. Pictured: Bartender Bradley Wasinda talks with Raymond Diez at Carmines Ybor Italian Restaurant in Tampa, Florida on June 26
The scientists say ‘viruses are released during exhalation, talking and coughing in microdroplets small enough to remain aloft in the air.’ Pictured: People stand outside the Duplex bar in the West Village on June 27
The World Health Organization, whose headquarters in Geneva is shown, has updated its guidance to agree with the researchers that airborne spread is possible
WHO has long dismissed the possibility that the coronavirus is spread in the air except for certain risky medical procedures, such as when patients are first put on breathing machines.
In a change to its previous thinking, WHO noted on Thursday that studies evaluating COVID-19 outbreaks in restaurants, choir practices and fitness classes suggested the virus might have been spread in the air.
Airborne spread ‘particularly in specific indoor locations, such as crowded and inadequately ventilated spaces over a prolonged period of time with infected persons cannot be ruled out,’ WHO said.
Still, officials also pointed out that other modes of transmission — like contaminated surfaces or close contacts between people in such indoor environments — might also have explained the disease’s spread.
WHO’s stance also recognized the importance of people spreading COVID-19 without symptoms, a phenomenon the organization has long downplayed.
WHO has repeatedly said such transmission is ‘rare’ despite a growing consensus among scientists globally that asymptomatic spread likely accounts for a significant amount of transmission. The agency said that most spread is via droplets from infected people who cough or sneeze, but added that people without symptoms are also capable of transmitting the disease.
‘The extent of truly asymptomatic infection in the community remains unknown,’ WHO said.