The CoviD-19 saga: The Airborne Debate part 2

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Airborne or not?

The debate rages when no less than 239 scientists recently attached their signatures to an open letter published in the Infectious Disease Society of America. The content of the letter? The scientists suggest that virus – SARS-CoV-2 – may spread by airborne transmission, lingering in the air for hours within lighter “microdroplets.”

"This 2009 photograph captured a sneeze in progress, revealing the plume of salivary droplets as they are expelled in a large cone-shaped array from this man’s open mouth, thereby dramatically illustrating the reason one needs to cover his/her mouth when coughing, or sneezing, in order to protect others from germ exposure." | Photo by James Gathany / Public domain
“This 2009 photograph captured a sneeze in progress, revealing the plume of salivary droplets as they are expelled in a large cone-shaped array from this man’s open mouth, thereby dramatically illustrating the reason one needs to cover his/her mouth when coughing, or sneezing, in order to protect others from germ exposure.” | Photo by James Gathany / Public domain

The letter challenges the most recent guidelines of the World Health Organization (WHO), urging the institution to recognize airborne transmission as a significant route of CoviD-19 infection, and plan accordingly.

“Hand-washing and social distancing are appropriate, but in our view, insufficient to provide protection from virus-carrying respiratory microdroplets released into the air by infected people,” states the letter,

The World Health Organization has said the coronavirus is only confirmed to be airborne during aerosol-generating medical procedures performed in health care settings, such as intubation. It says the virus primarily spreads through larger respiratory droplets, which don’t travel as far, which is why maintaining social distancing of about six feet has been recommended. (Read: The COVID19 Saga: The Airborne Debate)

As is known, SARS-CoV-2 can be airborne in specific situations, most especially in the healthcare setting where there is aerosol generating procedures such as suctioning, intubating or procedures that involve the upper airway. That is why wearing of appropriate PPE, and ventilation should be strictly observed by frontliners.

A study published in the Centers for Disease Control, Emerging Infectious Disease data base last March 2020 by Zhen-Dong Guo et. al states that smaller droplets that can remain airborne don’t necessarily contain enough virus to infect someone. But this is an area of active research and may change.

So can is SARS-CoV-airborne? The verdict is not yet COMPLETELY and ABSOLUTELY out (read: no conclusive evidence yet). However, International Health authorities are investigating and reviewing their guidelines after the appeal.

The World Health Organization’s COVID-19 technical lead, Maria Van Kerkhove said the UN health agency would seen consolidate the growing knowledge and information around transmission. Van Kerkhove said they will be issuing a brief in the coming days which will outline everything that they have in this area.

What if SARS-CoV-2 becomes Airborne?

All of the laid out precautionary measures against the CoviD-19 virus are actually adequate: proper wearing of face masks, observing social distancing and avoiding gatherings, avoiding places with poor ventilation as much as possible, frequent hand-washing, etc. There are no drastic changes in the measures, just stricter compliance.

Airborne transmissions bring with it new complications. For one, if the virus is airborne, simply talking sans a can spread the virus. So can singing so.

So I hope my neighbor doing Karaoke nightly (and everyone for that matter, since it’s a popular Filipino past-time) would limit it, or give us all a favor and at best stop for now.

The possibility of airborne transmission is not new, even if the evidence is not yet definitive. There is no change in the precautionary measures, but more prudence should be observed, and for good readon: new evidences always tend to make people act like hoarders.

Wear face masks, avoid crowded areas and enclosed spaces with poor ventilation.

Limit trips outside the house to necessities only and practice physical distancing, work from home if possible, and disinfect regularly.

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