Hundreds of Scientists Say CCP Virus Is Airborne, Urge WHO to Revise Recommendations

Hundreds of Scientists Say CCP Virus Is Airborne, Urge WHO to Revise Recommendations
Transmission electron micrograph of SARS-CoV-2, or CCP virus particles, isolated from a patient. Image captured and color-enhanced at the NIAID Integrated Research Facility (IRF) in Fort Detrick, Maryland. (NIAID)
Isabel van Brugen

A group of international scientists who say there is evidence that the CCP virus can be spread through airborne transmission have called on the World Health Organization (WHO) to revise its recommendations on the virus, which causes the respiratory disease COVID-19.

The WHO has held that the CCP (Chinese Communist Party) virus disease is transmitted mostly from person to person through small droplets from the nose or mouth, which are expelled when a person with COVID-19 coughs, sneezes, or speaks.

In the agency’s latest update on the virus that first emerged in Wuhan, China last year, the United Nations health body said that the virus can only be transmitted by air after medical procedures such as intubation that produce aerosols or droplets smaller than 5 microns—five-millionths of a meter.
According to The New York Times, 239 scientists in 32 countries have penned an open letter to the U.N. agency outlining evidence that smaller particles in the air can infect people. The researchers urged the WHO to acknowledge the role of airborne spread of the disease, and plan to publish the letter in the journal Clinical Infectious Diseases this week.

The researchers, which include scientists involved in drawing up the agency’s recommendations, say that COVID-19’s airborne transmission isn’t how the WHO classifies it. They suggest the WHO has downplayed the importance the disease’s spread by air.

Linsey Marr, an expert in airborne transmission of viruses at Virginia Tech and a co-signatory of the letter, told The New York Times that the WHO has so far relied on studies from hospitals with good air flow that would dilute viral levels, which underestimates the risk of airborne transmission.

The “air-exchange rate” in most buildings is usually much lower, Marr explained, “allowing virus to accumulate in the air and pose a greater risk.”

Marr noted that the agency is also relying on a dated definition of airborne transmission.

Whether carried 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, the CCP virus is borne through air and can infect people when inhaled, the scientists said.

The findings could mean that people may be required to wear masks while indoors, even in settings where social distancing measures are enforced. This applies particularly in crowded areas with poor ventilation.

The researchers told the news outlet that the WHO’s infection prevention and control committee, in particular, is bound by a rigid and overly medicalized view of scientific evidence. They noted that the committee is slow and risk-averse in updating its guidance.

However, the health agency still maintains that evidence for the virus being airborne was not convincing.

“Especially in the last couple of months, we have been stating several times that we consider airborne transmission as possible but certainly not supported by solid or even clear evidence,” Dr. Benedetta Allegranzi, the WHO’s technical lead of infection prevention and control, told The New York Times.

The WHO previously dismissed claims that the virus is airborne in response to a study authored by researchers from the University of Nebraska Medical Center (UNMC), the National Strategic Research Institute at the University of Nebraska, and others. The study, released on March 29, analyzed air samples in the rooms of CCP virus patients and found “high levels of the virus contamination.”

While the researchers stressed that their findings do not prove that the virus spreads “in an airborne fashion,” they said their observations did indicate that the disease might be spread though both direct (droplet and person-to-person) as well as indirect (contaminated objects and airborne transmission) contact.

“The virus that causes COVID-19 is mainly transmitted through droplets generated when an infected person coughs, sneezes, or speaks,” the WHO wrote on Twitter in March. “These droplets are too heavy to hang in the air. They quickly fall on floors or surfaces.”

“To protect yourself, keep at least one meter distance from others and disinfect surfaces that are touched frequently. Regularly clean your hands thoroughly and avoid touching your eyes, mouth, and nose,” it added.

Reuters contributed to this report.