Hundreds of scientists and doctors are calling on the World Health Organization (WHO) to recognize that COVID-19 can spread through the air, while some Canadian experts argue that the term “airborne” is misleading.
An open letter urging the WHO to use the term “airborne” has been signed by 239 scientists and physicians from 32 different countries.
The group argues that the WHO should begin warning people that COVID could spread through ‘aerosols’ that stay in the air for longer periods of time.
Tiny, light particles are expelled each time someone coughs, sneezes or breathes and some of these particles can linger around the air for a while.
However, there is debate over how effective these suspended particles are at transmitting the virus.
Some Canadian infectious disease experts aren’t convinced.
Epidemiologist Colin Furness at the University of Toronto says the term “airborne” has the potential to cause unnecessary panic or concern.
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He argues that the term is confusing, because it suggests that COVID could slip in through an open window or under a door– which he says isn’t true.
In B.C., Provincial Health Officer Dr. Bonnie Henry also cast doubt on the idea, saying she believed the letter was “trying to foment a bit of controversy.”
Henry added that, although it seems that COVID particles can be released through both large and small droplets when someone coughs, we don’t know how potent those smaller ones are.
Dr. Zain Chagla, an infectious disease physician and an associate professor at McMaster University, agrees, saying we would have seen extremely high rates of transmission if COVID-19 was, in fact, a predominantly airborne virus.
He stresses that our current health and safety measures would be much less effective if COVID was spreading through the air.
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