CDC states covid-19 guidance on airborne transmission was posted in error

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The FINANCIAL — The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention updated its COVID-19 guidance to acknowledge the risk that the coronavirus can be transmitted through airborne respiratory particles — but then on Monday took it down saying that the draft recommendation was posted in error to the agency’s official website. Now the website says that COVID-19 is thought to spread mainly through close contact from person-to-person.

The now-withdrawn guidance, posted on the agency’s website on Friday, recommended that people use air purifiers to reduce airborne germs indoors to avoid the disease from spreading. The health agency had said that COVID-19 could spread through airborne particles that can remain suspended in the air and travel beyond six feet. Presently, the agency’s guidance says the virus mainly spreads from person-to-person through respiratory droplets, which can land in the mouth or nose of people nearby, according to Reuters.

“A draft version of proposed changes to these recommendations was posted in error to the agency’s official website. 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 updated language will be posted.” – The agency’s official website reads.

The official said the guideline change was published without being thoroughly reviewed by CDC experts. “Somebody hit the button and shouldn’t have,” the official said. The agency tried to further clarify what it meant by aerosol transmission. “It can occur, but it’s not the way the virus is primarily being transmitted,” the official said. But in the effort to say that, it was written in such a way “that it’s being understood to mean it’s more transmissible than we thought, which is not the case.” The official added that the guidance is “getting revised,” but didn’t say when the revision would be posted to the CDC’s website, as reported by CNN.

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On the other hand, the idea that the virus can be passed at distances of greater than six feet is anything but new. As far back as in March, up to 87% of attendees at a choir practice in Washington State were linked to one symptomatic patient, as an early example of a “super spreader event.” Although the people at the choir practice took some social distancing precautions, singing loudly in an enclosed room may have contributed to infections. Also in July, a panel of 239 scientists wrote a statement recognizing the risks of airborne spread as it relates to COVID-19, with an enhanced focus on indoor ventilation and continued emphasis on avoidance of overcrowding. The difference between “airborne particles” and “droplets” is subtle, but important, experts say. Airborne particles are too small to see, and can accumulate over time in poorly ventilated areas, ABC News wrote.

Very few diseases — tuberculosis, chicken pox and measles — have been deemed transmissible through aerosols. However, Japan, for example, had been operating for months on the assumption that tiny, aerosolized particles in crowded settings were fueling the spread of the coronavirus. Back in February, Japan adopted a strategy to fight airborne transmission of COVID-19 by telling residents to avoid “the three Cs” — cramped spaces, crowded areas and close conversation. The CDC’s guidance also explains that the closer and longer a person with COVID-19 is with others, the higher the risk of spreading the virus to those people, according to CBS News.

It is interesting to note that in July of 2020 WHO published a new version of its list of frequently asked questions about COVID-19. It’s the first time the WHO has acknowledged the virus can travel in the air and linger longer than previously thought. Aerosol transmission involves secretions in particles much smaller than those released when a person coughs or sneezes. These particles are produced by speaking loudly, singing or even breathing heavily, after exertion for instance. Read more. 

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