There's "Emerging Evidence" That COVID Spreads This Way, WHO Says
Global health officials are coming around to mounting evidence that COVID is transmitted through the air.
Whether or not coronavirus is airborne has been a subject of debate since the COVID-19 pandemic hit the U.S. in March. But in the months since, there's been mounting evidence that indicates that airborne particles can potentially transmit the virus, leading to increased pressure for global health officials to acknowledge the connection. That pressure culminated in a July 6 letter signed by 239 scientists calling for the World Health Organization (WHO) to recognize airborne transmission. Now, the message appears to have been received. On July 8, WHO acknowledged that there is "emerging evidence" that coronavirus spreads through the air, CNN reports.
The change in tone came while addressing the group letter during a daily press briefing. WHO Technical Lead for Infection Prevention and Control Benedetta Allegranzi, MD, noted that many of the consignees had collaborated with the health agency. "We acknowledge that there is emerging evidence in this field, as in all other fields regarding the COVID-19 virus and pandemic, and therefore we believe that we have to be open to this evidence and understand its implications regarding the modes of transmission and also regarding the precautions that need to be taken," she said.
Throughout the pandemic, WHO's official stance has been that coronavirus is spread largely though respiratory droplets "when a person is in close contact (within 1 meter) of someone with respiratory symptoms," like coughing or sneezing. A change in the suggested mode of transmission would likely lead WHO to a change in guidelines and regulations that would put a greater emphasis on social distancing and mask wearing, which WHO was also late to adopt.
Allegranzi made a point to clarify that WHO has been taking the time to look for more definitive evidence before changing its official stance on the novel coronavirus being airborne. "The possibility of airborne transmission in public settings, especially in very specific conditions—crowded, closed, poorly ventilated settings—that have been described, cannot be ruled out," she said. "However, the evidence needs to be gathered and interpreted."
Still, WHO officials state they are gathering that evidence on how coronavirus spreads and are not ruling out any possible transmission modes. "We have been talking about the possibility of airborne transmission and aerosol transmission as one of the modes of transmission of COVID-19, as well as droplet," Maria Van Kerkhove, PhD, head of WHO's emerging diseases and zoonosis unit, said at the briefing. She added that a formal scientific brief on the matter would be released from WHO in the coming weeks. And for more on how coronavirus can spread, check out This Is Who's Transmitting Over 50 Percent of COVID Cases, Study Finds.