The new coronavirus appears to be transmissible when people speak and breathe, a senior U.S. government scientist said on Friday as the White House prepares to recommend people wear masks.
The airborne transmission would provide the long-sought explanation for the apparently high contagion of the virus responsible for the COVID-19 pandemic, since it seems that infected symptom-free humans are responsible for a large part of the contagions, without their knowledge.
Dr. Anthony Fauci, director of the National Institute for Infectious Diseases and a Donald Trump’s adviser on the epidemic, told Fox News on Friday that “the virus can actually be transmitted when people just talk, not just when they sneeze or cough.”
The American Academy of Sciences detailed in a letter sent to the White House on Wednesday several preliminary scientific findings that strike a balance in favor of airborne transmission of humans (“aerosols” in scientific jargon) and no more than droplets projected during sneezes directly at other people’s faces or on surfaces (where it has been shown that the virus can survive for hours or even days, depending on the type of surface).
“The currently available research supports the possibility that SARS-CoV-2 can be transmitted to bioaerosols created by direct exhalation of patients,” wrote Harvey Fineberg, chair of the Committee for Infectious Diseases, in a letter to the names of the academies and reviewed by several other experts.
He cites four studies and points out that more is needed to better understand the real risk of contracting a new virus. If the virus is actually present in respiration, it is not yet known whether this is a quantitatively important route of transmission.
In a study, researchers at the University of Nebraska found portions of the virus’s genetic code (RNA) in the air of rooms where patients were isolated. Finding these parts of the virus, however, is not the same as finding the whole virus.
The mask… useful
Researchers at the University of Hong Kong recently noted that wearing masks reduced the amount of coronavirus exhaled by patients (the experiment was done with non-SARS-CoV-2 viruses).
And Chinese researchers in Wuhan took air samples from various rooms in city hospitals and found high concentrations of the new coronavirus, including in toilets and rooms where caregivers had removed their protective equipment.
In light of these results, US officials are preparing the country for the recommendation to wear masks, probably handcrafted, and whose formulation and level of commitments are still unknown