Scientists Press WHO on Airborne Transmission

A staff member of the Yokosuka Medical Association puts on an N95 mask. Yokosuka, Japan. April 23, 2020. Image: Tomohiro Ohsumi/Getty
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A staff member of the Yokosuka Medical Association puts on an N95 mask. Yokosuka, Japan. April 23, 2020. Image: Tomohiro Ohsumi/Getty

Evidence is mounting that tiny, infectious COVID-19 droplets linger in the air longer than once thought, according to a group of scientists urging the WHO to update its guidance, The Washington Post reports.

200+ scientists from 30 countries collaborated on an open letter—set to be published in the journal Clinical Infectious Disease—directed at the agency, which has maintained that SARS-CoV-2 is spread primarily by large respiratory droplets that quickly sink to the floor.

If airborne transmission is proven to be a major factor in the spread, the consequences for containment will be significant—especially in crowded, poorly ventilated settings, according to The New York Times.

It could lead to upgraded guidance, such as:

  • N95 masks for health workers

  • Masks advised even for physically-distant settings

  • Ventilation systems that minimize recirculating air, equipped with more powerful filters

  • Ultraviolet lights to kill viral particles indoors


WHO, under criticism for being slow and risk-averse in responding to research developments, pledged to review the issue but defended its cautious approach—which must also weigh the impact of evolving guidance on low-resource member nations.

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