MONDAY, July 6, 2020 (HealthDay News) -- The new coronavirus can linger in indoor air and infect people, 239 scientists in 32 countries say in an open letter to the World Health Organization that challenges the WHO's position on how the virus is spread.
The WHO says the virus is spread primarily by large respiratory droplets expelled by infected people in coughs and sneezes but that those droplets fall quickly to the floor instead of remaining in the air, The New York Times reported. But the scientists' letter contends that much smaller exhaled droplets can travel the length of a room through the air and cause infection when they are inhaled. They plan to publish their letter next week in a scientific journal.
If this type of airborne transmission plays a significant role in the pandemic, there are major implications, according to The Times. Masks may be required indoors, building ventilation systems may need to minimize recirculating air, ultraviolet lights may be required to kill airborne viral particles, and health care workers may need masks that filter out even the smallest respiratory droplets as they care for COVID-19 patients.
However, the WHO's technical lead on infection control, Benedetta Allegranzi, M.D., said the evidence for the new coronavirus spreading in the air this way was unconvincing. "Especially in the last couple of months, we have been stating several times that we consider airborne transmission as possible but certainly not supported by solid or even clear evidence," Allegranzi said, according to The Times. "There is a strong debate on this."