FIT WebQoof: Does Coronavirus Remain in the Air for 8 Hours?
“So far, only healthcare workers are advised to take airborne precautions performing aerosol-generating procedures.”
Ever since the coronavirus outbreak spread across the world, rumours and fake news have spread rapidly. The latest viral social media message about coronavirus claims that coronavirus can stay in the air "for 8 hours."
The message shares a link to a story with the text "WHO (World Health Organisation) reversed their earlier position that COVID virus is not airborne. Please avoid all public transport, especially small and confined ones."
Several claims, that we shall debunk one by one.
1. Does the CNBC Article Indicate the Virus is Airborne?
Firstly, the article does not link to any studies that verify that COVID-19 can survive in air, or on plastic, paper, steel or cardboard.
It only adds that studies are being conducted - by WHO and other scientific bodies - to determine how long the virus can stay on the mentioned surfaces.
A study in The New England Journal of Medicine claims that COVID-19 is detectable for up to three hours in aerosols, up to four hours on copper, up to 24 hours on cardboard and up to two to three days on plastic and stainless steel but there is no official WHO comment on the same.
Secondly, the CNBC article linked in the viral message describes a WHO press conference on Monday, 16 March, to the media on COVID-19 transmission.
In it, the WHO explained that COVID-19 may be aerosol-borne and not airborne, that is it may linger in the air when healthcare workers are performing aerosol-generating procedures. The CNBC article calls this ‘airborne-transmission’ although it is clear in the context of the article and WHO press conference, that WHO is referring to aerosol-borne-transmission.
Infectious Disease Epidemiologist at the WHO, Dr Maria Van Kerkhove clarified that disease is spread through “liquid droplets through people’s noses or mouths when they sneeze or cough”.
Fact: The CNBC article headline does use the word airborne, but the article and the WHO has clarified that the virus may be aerosol borne NOT airborne.
Does the Virus Stay Airborne for 8 Hours?
We have just established that the virus is not airborne but in certain medical settings, it can be aerosol borne.
Fact: The study published in The New England Journal of Medicine seemed to indicate that in medical settings, the virus could linger in the air for a period of time during aerosol generating procedures. The WHO has taken note of such reports and issued guidelines to health workers for safety.
Has WHO Reversed their Earlier Position that COVID Virus is Not Airborne?
Finally, the message claims that WHO revised its easier position on airborne transmission.
First, WHO maintains that the virus spreads through liquid droplets from person to person and through surfaces where the droplets land. They did not give more details on the type and duration of the surface but added that regular cleaning of surfaces is a must.
WHO also said that they are “assessing ongoing research on the ways COVID-19 is spread and will continue to share updated findings.”
Second, in their COVID-19 advise to health workers, the WHO says that the evidence so far “demonstrates viral transmission by droplets and contact with contaminated surfaces of equipment; it does not support routine airborne transmission.”
The only case it may happen, like in other viral respiratory diseases, is “during aerosol-generating procedures (e.g., tracheal intubation, bronchoscopy), thus WHO recommends airborne precautions for these procedures.”
Like Dr Maria Van Kerkhove said in a press conference, “We recommend everyone, especially healthcare workers, to use standard hygiene procedures. We recommend healthcare workers to use standard droplet precautions. If they are doing an aerosol-generating procedure, then we recommend airborne precautions.”
She further explained, “When you do an aerosol-generating procedure like in a medical care facility, you have the possibility to what we call aerosolize these particles, which means they can stay in the air a little bit longer.”
Fact: WHO has advised the healthcare workers to use airborne precautions while doing aerosol-generating procedures.
‘No Sure Evidence of Airborne Transmission’: WHO
Dr Poonam Khetrapal Singh, Regional Director, WHO South-East Asia also clarified that,
“Airborne spread has not been reported for COVID-19. Based on the information received so far and on our experience with other coronaviruses, COVID-19 appears to spread mostly through respiratory droplets (for instance produced when a sick person coughs) and close contact. This is why WHO recommends maintaining hand and respiratory hygiene.”
Dr Poonam Khetrapal Singh adds that there could be the possibility of aerosol transmission, citing the Chinese authorities reports on aerosol transmission.
“The Chinese authorities reported that there could be a possibility of aerosol transmission in a relatively closed environment with prolonged exposure to high concentrations of aerosols, like in ICUs and CCUs in hospitals, but more investigations and analysis of epidemiological data is needed to understand this mode of transmission of the virus.”
Robert Redfield, director of the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention told the US congress that surface rather than airborne transmission is believed to have caused the outbreak on the Diamond Princess cruise ship.
As of now, more evidence is needed before even aerosol transmission of COVID-19 can be verified as fact. It may be best to take all necessary precautions like social distancing, self-quarantining when sick and calling a doctor for any queries to stay safe.
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