Adding one more layer to an already dire situation; the World Health Organization has conceded to the possibility of COVID-19 airborne transmissions. Mounting evidence pointing to the airborne transmission of the Coronavirus has prompted the world health organization to consider the possibility of transmission in crowded and poorly ventilated spaces.

The concession comes after the release of an open letter from 239 scientists around the world titled Its Time to Address Airborne Transmission of COVID-19. The letter goes into detail about the airborne spread of Coronavirus and emphasizes that the World Health Organization needs to take this matter more seriously.

The letter states that:

“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: people may think that they are fully protected by adhering to the current recommendations, but in fact, additional airborne interventions are necessary for further reduction of infection risk,”

The danger of not recognizing the airborne spread of the virus means that we, to our knowledge, are adhering to the health regulations but in actuality, further regulatory measures that include airborne spread should be considered. The WHO states that the matter is still preliminary and that they are conducting further research.

With the lockdown regulations in South Africa increasingly loosening; people are getting back to work, students and children are going back to school and air travel slowly resuming, the virus potentially being airborne is a big deal.

What does airborne transmission mean? 

Airborne transmission refers to microdroplets that become aerosolized when talking, laughing, exhaling, and coughing. These microdroplets can remain suspended in the air for long periods. A virus that is airborne transmitted will hang in the air in those microdroplets that are invisible to the naked eye. People can then inhale those particles and be at risk of contracting COVID-19.

Are you at risk of contracting COVID-19 through airborne transmission? 

One of the issues, says the head of the School of Public Health & Family Medicine at UCT, Professor Landon Myer, is how much of the virus may be contained in a particle of different sizes and how infectious such a particle is.

It’s unclear how many particles and the length of time you would have to inhale for you to get infected with COVID-19. With that being said, practising the highest level of caution, while the investigation is ongoing is essential. It’s always better to be safe.

The safety precautions to take to prevent airborne transmission of COVID-19:

In addition to standard COVID-19 safety regulations:

  • Cleaning your hands often with soap and water, or an alcohol-based hand rub.
  • Maintaining a safe distance from anyone who is coughing or sneezing.
  • Wearing a mask when physical distancing is not possible.
  • Not touching your eyes, nose or mouth.
  • Covering your nose and mouth with your bent elbow or a tissue when you cough or sneeze.
  • Staying home if you feel unwell.
  • And if you have a fever, cough and difficulty breathing, seeking medical attention.

These are precautions you need to take into consideration pertaining to airborne transmissions:

  • Provide sufficient and, effective ventilation (supply clean outdoor air, minimize recirculating air) particularly, in public buildings, workplace environments, schools, hospitals, and aged care homes.
  • Supplement general ventilation with airborne infection controls such as local exhaust, high-efficiency air filtration, and germicidal ultraviolet lights.
  • Avoid overcrowding, particularly in public transport and public buildings.