The World Health Organization (WHO) Acknowledged Emerging Evidence of Airborne Spread of Covid-19, updating its previous guidance that the novel coronavirus primarily spreads through small droplets from an infected person's nose and mouth that quickly sink to the ground.
An open letter from 239 scientists from 32 countries urged the WHO to update its guidance, cautioning that Covid-19 can travel for tens of meters indoors, potentially explaining some of the super spreading events:
“Studies … have demonstrated beyond any reasonable doubt that viruses are released during exhalation, talking, and coughing in microdroplets small enough to remain aloft in air and pose a risk of exposure at distances beyond 1 to 2 meters from an infected individual.”
One of the scientists who signed the letter, Jose Jimenez, a Professor of Chemistry at the University of Colorado, notes that there's a high bar to prove aerosol transmission, given the potential for panic among healthcare workers and the general population.
Healthcare workers would need to don N95 masks for all interaction with potentially infected patients, not just for confirmed cases or intubations or other procedures that are known to produce aerosols.
How long does living virus survive in aerosols? In this study Covid-19 aerosols remained suspended for 3 hours, although under most conditions particles would remains suspended for about 1 hour or less.
Airborne transmission is likely to account for the superspreading choir practice in Skagit County, Washington state, where an infected singer spread the virus to 52 of the 60 other choir members.
What Airborne Transmission Means for Travel
Airborne transmission makes any enclosed space far more risky, particularly if there isn't good ventilation and/or highly efficient air filters. While most commercial aircraft have HEPA filters that filter out 99.97% of viruses and bacteria in recirculated air, many cruise lines don't have these. For this reason, we can't recommend most cruises at present.
Better luxury hotels such as the Cliff House Maine have both installed HEPA filters in all guest rooms and suites and use UV light to disinfect rooms and suites between guest stays, as well as public areas on a regular basis. That said, elevators and stairwells often have poor ventilation, so we recommend not staying on high floors if it means a long elevator ride.
Indoor dining at restaurants, however, is problematic; we highly recommend that clients dine at outside venues, which is safer.
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