A scientific panel told the White House Wednesday night that research shows coronavirus can be spread not just by coughs or sneezes, but also just by talking, or possibly even just breathing.
“While the current (coronavirus) specific research is limited, the results of available studies are consistent with aerosolization of virus from normal breathing,” according to the letter, written by Dr. Harvey Fineberg, chairman of a committee with the National Academy of Sciences.
Fineberg told to CNN report that he will start wearing a mask when he goes to the grocery store.
“I’m not going to wear a surgical mask, because clinicians need those,” said Fineberg, former dean of the Harvard School of Public Health. “But I have a nice western-style bandana I might wear. Or I have a balaclava. I have some pretty nice options.”
Dr. Anthony Fauci, a key member of the White House’s coronavirus task force, said on Tuesday that the idea of recommending broad use of masks in the US to prevent the spread of coronavirus is under “very active discussion” by the group.
“This letter responds to your question concerning the possibility that the virus could be spread by conversation, in addition to sneeze and cough-induced droplets,” the letter states.
“Currently available research supports the possibility that the virus could be spread via bioaerosols generated directly by patients’ exhalation,” it continues.
Fineberg, chair of the NAS’ Standing Committee on Emerging Infectious Diseases and 21st Century Health Threats, said his letter was sent Wednesday evening in response to a query from Kelvin Droegemeier with the Office of Science and Technology Policy at the White House.
According to the US Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, the virus spreads from person to person when people are within about 6 feet of each other “through respiratory droplets produced when an infected person coughs or sneezes.”
Fineberg said this is true, but that research shows that aerosolized droplets produced from talking or possibly even by just breathing can also spread the coronavirus.
His letter explains that research at a hospital in China shows the virus can be suspended in the air when nurses and doctors remove protective gear, or when floors are cleaned, or when staff move around.
Moreover, the research by the University of Nebraska shows that genetic material from the virus was found in patients’ rooms more than 6 feet away from the patients.
Fineberg said it’s possible that aerosolized coronavirus droplets can hang in the air and potentially infect someone who walks by. However, that coronavirus is not as infectious as measles or tuberculosis, he added.
“If you generate an aerosol of the virus with no circulation in a room, it’s conceivable that if you walk through later, you could inhale the virus,” Fineberg said. “But if you’re outside, the breeze will likely disperse it.”