Recently, the federal government released a blog post, ‘Let’s Clear the Air on COVID,’ describing the virus as being primarily transmitted through aerosols within the environment. This marks the first time the White House has formally acknowledged that aerosol transmission has been the primary driver of COVID-19 infection during the pandemic, mirroring the language of experts and interestingly turning away from the language commonly used by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC).
Though the CDC has mentioned the possibility of aerosol transmission, it still maintains that droplets are the most common route for the transmission of COVID-19, a stance that has drawn the criticism of many experts within the fields of infectious disease research.
“The CDC still says the science [of aerosol spread] is iffy, still underplays it, despite so much evidence to the contrary,” said Lisa Brosseau, ScD, a research consultant at the University of Minnesota’s Center for Infectious Disease Research and Policy (CIDRAP).
“But even as early as March and April of 2020 we had details of how long the virus remains viable in the air, we had examples from China of finding viral RNA in air filters and air exhaust pipes in patient rooms. It was suggestive it wasn’t just on surfaces.”
A Paradigm Shift in Approaching Air Quality?
If aerosol transmission is the dominant way the virus is spread, then experts state that the prior methods of prevention (i.e. cloth face coverings and surgical masks) are insufficient to stop the spread. Instead, they cite N95 respirators and improvements to ventilation and air quality within buildings to be the most effective measure to reducing the spread of COVID.
“This gives prominence to the importance of clean air,” said David Michaels, PhD, MPH, epidemiologist and professor at the George Washington University School of Public Health in an interview with CIDRAP News. “It parallels clean water and outdoor air quality. We expect clean water, and we demand pollution be eliminated to make outdoor air clean. Now people will demand clean indoor air quality.”
This new stance is reflected in guidance put out by the White House last week, placing a new emphasis on pandemic management as an industrial hygiene issue. In the release, the White House outlined several key approaches and strategies for schools, senior living facilities and other commercial buildings to adopt to improve air quality to meet public health needs.
The new guidance can be accessed here.