In the US, COVID-19 is spreading like wildfire. At the same time, the research community is learning more and more about how the coronavirus gets from one person to another. There are many nuances, and we still do not know everything about it. But we are in an emergency and we have actionable facts. To help break the noise, the public should be warned, clearly and often: The coronavirus is airborne.
Medical researchers and practitioners have spent months pressing the public health institution to evolve into messages about how COVID-19 spreads. At first, many experts thought that the virus spreads mainly through large droplets, such as those that fly out of your mouth and fall to the ground within a few feet, especially when coughing. Then it became clear that people without coughs or other symptoms – and in many cases, could spread the virus. In an April 1 letter to the White House, the National Academy of Sciences raised concerns about the risk of the coronavirus spreading through tiny droplets, which can accumulate around us as we speak, and even when we breathe normally. Two days later, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention recommended that people can wear “face masks” over their mouths and noses if they wished. In early July, 239 scientists called on the World Health Organization to finally recognize the risk of airborne transmission of COVID-19. The WHO now acknowledges that coronavirus-carrying droplets may remain suspended in the air indoors, but its messages tend to convey the risk of COVID-19 airborne spread as a consequence. For example, a WHO Q&A site gives the impression that if we are all standing about 3 feet apart, the distance they recommend, and taking care to wash your hands, everything will be fine.
It will not be. The up-to-date message that should reach people is: In addition to the visible routes of transmission, such as coughing, or touching a surface and then your face, COVID-19 can be spread through the air we breathe, especially indoors. Or rather: The coronavirus is airborne. Repeat it. Tell your friends and family. We need to listen to it on the radio and podcast, watching it on PSA on TV and YouTube. It should be written in small signs that we should pass while doing carefully in grocery stores. While we do not need to worry about infectious clouds of coronavirus roaming on an open beach – the outside is quite safe if you can stay away – we should really worry when we encounter the virus wherever there are people in open spaces. poorly ventilated because the coronavirus is really airborne. The message should explode the noise of a world that produces about 350,000 tweets every minute, in which a person’s knowledge of the pandemic varies depending on their favorite news source, and where a full third of Americans are not constantly dressed face masks in stores and other businesses.
A big part of the challenges around messaging can be that the word “air” means different things to specialists in different disciplines. In aerosol science, “air” can describe particles moving in air currents. In medicine, “air” evokes a set of specific disease control measures, suitable for patients with tuberculosis or chicken, such as isolating patients in special rooms with negative air pressure. As a scientist, I may relate to the specialized nature of this term, but as part of the general public who wants to avoid COVID-19, it does not matter much to me if a virus that can be infectious in the air for about 30 minutes (which is the estimate for SARS-CoV-2), and another virus that can be infectious in the air for two hours (the case for the measles virus), both are described as airborne. This is a matter of scale. What matters to me is that if I am in the same room as a person infected with COVID-19 and they are constantly singing, shouting, talking, or even just breathing, there are SARS-CoV-2 viral particles carried by small droplets moving through the air that could infect me. This seems to be true even if I am six feet away if I am stuck in a room for a while that is not ventilated – say, a dive bar. I am more likely to worry about all of this if I have it in my head that the coronavirus is airy.
“Coronavirus is air” – this statement is difficult. Conveys that something harmful may be present, even when it cannot be seen with the naked eye, or felt on the skin. Many people have already heard the phrase “it’s air” in the context of Outbreak, Dustin Hoffman’s 1995 thriller (and Netflix’s fifth most popular movie on Mars!). It already accompanies him with a life-threatening illness. A summary warning allows itself to be repeated, a key tactic in getting an idea. Most importantly, “coronavirus is airborne” provides direct support for precautions to prevent the spread of COVID-19, such as keeping at least six feet away from people outside your home by wearing a face mask. over your nose and mouth when in public, spending the bare minimum amount of time indoors that are not your home, and improving ventilation in buildings. (Surface transmission may be less common, but, yes, it is still important to wash your hands with soap and water.) If you are going to be indoors for a long time with people from different backgrounds – say, in a school Care must be taken to ensure that the chance that someone with an infection is there is very low.
There is no time to lose. COVID-19 has already killed over 674,000 people, including more than 152,000 Americans. The failures of government, the private sector, international bodies and beyond have been beyond the control of many individuals. But experts responding to COVID-19 can control the way they communicate with the public. While the scientific and technical nuances of COVID-19 are absolutely critical, the pandemic is a crisis, and now is definitely not the perfect time to be the enemy of a good, blanket-saving statement. Communication with the public should prioritize engagement and clarity, thus making it more likely that people will take effective safeguards that mitigate the spread of COVID-19. Tell me: The coronavirus is airborne. The coronavirus is airborne. The coronavirus is airborne.
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