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The CDC flip-flops again, says COVID-19 is airborne and can infect you from more than 6 feet away

coronavirus airborne CDC recommendations
The National Guard/Flickr (CC BY 2.0)
  • Airborne particles are smaller than respiratory droplets
  • Unlike respiratory droplets, airborne particles can stay in the air for hours
  • Airborne particles also can be spread from more than six feet away

The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention has once again reversed its stance regarding the spread of the coronavirus by airborne transmission.

The public health agency had previously updated its website on Sept. 18 to reflect that the virus could be transmitted by aerosols—airborne particles smaller and more buoyant than respiratory droplets—even when an infected person was standing more than six feet away. The website even stated that these aerosols were “the main way the virus spreads.”

However, after a CNN report picked up on the change on Sept. 20, the CDC backtracked just one day later, claiming that the updated information had stemmed from an unreviewed draft that did not reflect their “current state of knowledge.”

“Unfortunately, an early draft of a revision went up without any technical review,” Jay Butler, the CDC’s deputy director for infectious disease, said in a statement to the Washington Post.

But in an update on Oct. 5, the CDC flip-flopped yet again, stating that we should not rule out an airborne transmission. The website now says that the virus can be spread “by exposure to [the] virus in small droplets and particles that can linger in the air for minutes to hours.”

The CDC’s official stance still maintains that COVID-19 is spread primarily through respiratory droplets from “close contact from person to person.” Now, it admits that the virus “may be able to infect people who are further than six feet away from the person who is infected or after that person has left the space.” In other words, the coronavirus is airborne.

“There is evidence that under certain conditions, people with COVID-19 seem to have infected others who were more than six feet away,” the updated language reads. “These transmissions occurred within enclosed spaces that had inadequate ventilation. Sometimes the infected person was breathing heavily, for example, while singing or exercising.”

In July, the World Health Organization updated its own guidelines on modes of transmission to include airborne particles after more than 200 scientists co-signed a letter urging the agency to do so. 

“We are concerned that the lack of recognition of the risk of airborne transmission of COVID-19 and the lack of clear recommendations on the control measures against the airborne virus will have significant consequences,” the letter stated. “People may think they are fully protected by adhering to the current recommendations, but in fact, additional airborne interventions are needed.”

Bill Gates has since offered sharp criticism of the CDC and FDA, in that the Trump administration-led agencies can’t be trusted to keep Americans safe. Shortly after the WHO letter was published, President Trump issued a formal notice to the United Nations that the U.S. would withdraw from the organization—though the official departure is not expected to take effect until sometime in 2021.

Sources: CDC, CNN, Washington Post, WHO


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