“While specific research on COVID-19 is limited, results of available studies support the possibility that viral particles can be spread via bioaerosols generated directly by exhalation of patients with COVID-19,” the National Academies Standing Committee on Emerging Infectious Diseases and 21st Century Health Threats, said. “However, there is not currently enough evidence to confirm that these particles are viable and in amounts sufficient to cause infection.”
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The panel cited several studies out of Hong Kong, the University of Nebraska, The New England Journal of Medicine and others that found evidence of the viral RNA in the air where infected patients were present. However, the experts said that more research into how many infections are produced as a result of air droplets is necessary to better understand the implications.
“Individuals vary in the degree to which they produce bioaerosols through normal breathing,” the letter said. “This may have a bearing on [the] efficiency of transmission of SARS-CoV-2 by different infected but asymptomatic individuals.”
Another expert, who is not affiliated with the panel, previously told Fox News that the current understanding of coronavirus transmission “is incomplete and rapidly evolving.”
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Dr. Linda Anegawa, an internist with virtual health platform PlushCare, said that research coming from China, Italy, and Iran, as well as the article in the New England Journal of Medicine, suggests that there is “reason to believe that the virus causing COVID-19 may linger in microdroplets in the air.”
However, Anegawa was also quick to note that contracting the virus in this way as opposed to having direct contact with an infected person would greatly depend on the duration of exposure and viral load.
The issue about whether the virus can be transmitted through the air is likely to find it's way into the debate on if the general public should be wearing masks to protect against COVID-19. The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), as well as the World Health Organization (WHO), maintain that for now, face masks and protective N95 respirators should be reserved for medical professionals and first responders.
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But earlier this week, it emerged that officials at the CDC may be mulling a change that would possibly recommend Americans fashion a nonmedical homemade mask to wear when leaving the house.
“It’s protective for people around you — that’s going to be the case whether or not there is a shortage,” he added of masks.
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