Experts say coronavirus is spreading through ‘airborne transmission’ — and there could be major implications
Coronavirus Doctor AFP

The World Health Organization was warned in an open letter sent by 239 scientists from 32 countries that COVID-19 is being spread through airborne transmission, The New York Times reported Saturday.

"If airborne transmission is a significant factor in the pandemic, especially in crowded spaces with poor ventilation, the consequences for containment will be significant. Masks may be needed indoors, even in socially distant settings. Health care workers may need N95 masks that filter out even the smallest respiratory droplets as they care for coronavirus patients," the newspaper explained. "Ventilation systems in schools, nursing homes, residences and businesses may need to minimize recirculating air and add powerful new filters. Ultraviolet lights may be needed to kill viral particles floating in tiny droplets indoors."

The debate is largely over the distinction between respiratory droplets or aerosols.

"The World Health Organization has long held that the coronavirus is spread primarily by large respiratory droplets that, once expelled by infected people in coughs and sneezes, fall quickly to the floor," the newspaper explained.

"Even in its latest update on the coronavirus, released June 29, the W.H.O. said airborne transmission of the virus is possible only after medical procedures that produce aerosols, or droplets smaller than 5 microns," The Times explained. "Proper ventilation and N95 masks are of concern only in those circumstances, according to the W.H.O. Instead, its infection control guidance, before and during this pandemic, has heavily promoted the importance of handwashing as a primary prevention strategy, even though there is limited evidence for transmission of the virus from surfaces."

The newspaper interviewed nearly 20 scientists for the story.

"Whether carried aloft by large droplets that zoom through the air after a sneeze, or by much smaller exhaled droplets that may glide the length of a room, these experts said, the coronavirus is borne through air and can infect people when inhaled," the newspaper explained.

Virginia Tech expert Linsey Marr said, "we've known since 1946 that coughing and talking generate aerosols."