The CDC Just Went Back on This Major COVID Development

After a long-awaited change, the CDC is now walking back this update on COVID transmission.

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For health experts who have been saying that COVID can be spread by airborne transmission since early on in the coronavirus pandemic, a recent Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) update felt like long-awaited vindication. On Sept. 18, the CDC's COVID guidelines were updated to acknowledge that the virus could be transmitted through the air. On Sept. 21, however, the CDC said that update was released "in error," and they deleted the mention of airborne transmission from the agency's website.

"A draft version of proposed changes to these recommendations was posted in error to the agency's official website," the site now says. "CDC is currently updating its recommendations regarding airborne transmission of SARS-CoV-2 (the virus that causes COVID-19). Once this process has been completed, the update language will be posted."

Before the most recent change, the CDC's guidance on how COVID is transmitted had been updated to include, "It is possible that COVID-19 may spread through the droplets and airborne particles that are formed when a person who has COVID-19 coughs, sneezes, sings, talks, or breathes. There is growing evidence that droplets and airborne particles can remain suspended in the air and be breathed in by others, and travel distances beyond six feet (for example, during choir practice, in restaurants, or in fitness classes)."

Kimberly Prather, PhD, director of the National Science Foundation's Center for Aerosol Impacts on Chemistry of the Environment, tweeted a screenshot of the CDC's guidance on airborne transmission before it was deleted. Now, the site is limited to the information about "person-to-person spread," which occurs "through respiratory droplets produced when an infected person coughs, sneezes, or talks."

group of medical practitioners talking to each other while looking at a tablet
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The question of whether or not coronavirus can be spread through the air has been a heated debate within the scientific community over the past several months, with many health experts urging the CDC to acknowledge the possibility of airborne transmission. Doing so, they have argued, would shift the focus on COVID prevention to improving ventilation, which could be the most important step in mitigating the spread of the virus.

The Sept. 18 CDC update seemed to decisively pick a side, concluding that, "In general, indoor environments without good ventilation increase this risk [of contracting COVID]." That sentence, however, has now been removed from the site.

This is not the first time in recent history the CDC has courted controversy with updates to its COVID guidelines. The institute made headlines in August when they changed testing guidelines for asymptomatic people who have been in contact with a known COVID carrier, saying that these individuals do not need to get tested. The update prompted an outcry from health experts, who worried this change could increase asymptomatic spread.

On Sept. 18, the CDC officially reversed that position following the backlash. They now advise anyone who has been in close contact with a sick person to get tested—even if they don't have symptoms. And for more insight from the CDC, The CDC Director Has a Troubling New Coronavirus Prediction.

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