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Ottawa, Jul 7 (Canadian-Media): A group of international scientists believe that the spread of coronavirus is through airborne transmission and urged the World Health Organization (WHO) to revise its guidelines, but there is controversy within the scientific community, media reports said.
Covid-19 pandemic. Image credit: Twitter handle
In an open letter to the WHO, 239 scientists in 32 countries have reportedly argued particles smaller than what has previously been reported can carry the novel coronavirus and infect people.
"Thousands of droplets fly through the air when we cough, the most common way for the coronavirus to affect others but there are also microscopic particles smaller than droplets that can remain airborne floating around several hours released by just talking or breathing", said today's video recording by CBCNews.
"If you do not block off all the means of transmission efficiently, the flattening of the curve would be extremely slow. A choir in Washington in March is one example of the super spreading event where one person infected dozens of others," Dr Raymond Tellier, the letter signatory.
Scientists warn, in the open letter to the WHO, that hand washing and physical distancing aren't enough to stop the outbreak.
"The WHO has downplayed the risk of the air borne particles because not enough is known about how infectious they are. But experts and food mechanics say that the WHO's understanding of the subject is decades out of date as the emerging science doesn't even draw distinction between droplets and airborne particles," Vik Adhopia of CBC News reported.
"WHO's understanding of the subject is routed in 1930s physics of the causes that have been observed, measured, modelled, and validated. The letter calls for the better ventilation asking that the WHO urge governments to mandate upgrades before allowing reopening specially in schools, workplaces and seniors' homes where lots of people congregate but not everyone agrees it is urgent," Lydia Bourouiba, from Massachusetts Institute of Technology said in the letter.
"They need to focus on certainties and spend less time focusing on the things that might have some impact but do not appear to be as important," said Dr. Allison McGeer from Mount Sinai Hospital.
The scientists said that one of the certainties is that the continued use of masks as well as the need forbid the spread of germs.
B.C.'s provincial health officer Dr. Bonnie Henry says the controversy over airborne transmission of COVID-19 has been magnified, after hundreds of scientists signed a letter calling for the WHO to revise its recommendations.
During her COVID-19 briefing on July 6, Henry said that the letter was designed "to foment a bit of controversy," and the disagreement is part of an ongoing discussion about how coronaviruses and other illnesses like influenza are spread.
Bonnie Henry. Image credit: Official BC site
"I actually think it's a little bit of a tempest in a teapot in that we all agree on the extremes and we're fussing a little bit about how much we need to focus on the bits in the middle," Henry said.
Since the beginning of the COVID-19 pandemic, both WHO and Henry have maintained that the coronavirus is spread through droplets expelled from the mouth and nose, which fall from the air comparatively quickly.
"We know that there's a gradation of how droplets come out when somebody coughs or sneezes or talks," Henry explained July 6.
Henry added that the spread of the virus is predominantly through larger droplets and transmission of this virus requires more moisture and closer contact between people.
'It's not transmitted long distances in the air column. We're all on the same page about that," Henry said.
"Where there's a challenge is how much of it is transmitted through the small droplets that are transmitted when I'm close to you."
Besides personal measures like physical distancing and masks in crowded settings, Henry said that B.C.'s approach to COVID-19 has been in implementing several different layers of protection including several types of personal protective equipment in health-care settings to prevent transmission of both small and large droplets.
She said we should look at the data consistently to determine the area of transmission events and adapt to it by taking additional measures including stricter rules around effective face masks.
"It discourages me that we're here after SARS in 2003 and H1N1 in 2009 and we still don't have a decent fitting mask that can be used easily in all health-care settings," said Henry.