COVID-19 coronavirus may be transmitted by breathing: report

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A message to U.S. President Donald Trump's White House from the National Academies of Science, Engineering and Medicine found strong evidence in the existing scientific literature that the novel coronavirus may be spread through normal breathing.

The report, issued on April 1, buttresses the argument that asymptomatic people should wear masks to reduce inadvertent transmission of the virus.

In an email to Science Insider, Kimberly Prather, an aerosol chemist at the University of California, San Diego, said she was "relieved to see aerosolization is accepted."

"This added airborne pathway helps explain why it is spreading so fast," she said.

As late as March 27, a scientific brief from the World Health Organization stated that an analysis of more than 75,000 COVID-19 cases in China found no cases of the virus spreading through aerosols.

On April 3, the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention reversed its previous advice on wearing masks in public, and recommended that everyone wear cloth face coverings while out in public during the pandemic.

In its announcement, the CDC stressed that surgical masks or N-95 respirators must be reserved for healthcare workers and medical first responders.

1. Spread of SARS-CoV-2 through respiratory droplets via coughing or sneezing
2. Spread of SARS-CoV-2 through aerosol droplets via breathing normally
3. SARS-CoV-2 resuspended in the air by a healthcare worker
4. Masks reduce presence of other kinds of human coronavirus RNA in respiratory droplets and aerosols

VOICEOVER (in English):
"Until now, most global health agencies have stated the primary route of transmission for SARS-CoV-2 is through respiratory droplets, up to 1 millimeter wide, that are expelled when people cough or sneeze. These fall to the ground within 1 or 2 meters. They can also be deposited on surfaces, from where they can infect people who touch their eyes, nose or mouth."

"The report by the National Academies cited previous research, including a study in the New England Journal of Medicine which found that novel coronavirus can float in aerosol droplets less than 5 microns wide for up to three hours. That study cited an earlier one from University of Nebraska Medical Center researchers which found viral RNA on hard-to-reach surfaces and in air samples more than 2 meters away from infected people."

"The report also cited research from Wuhan University which found that novel coronavirus can be resuspended in the air when healthcare workers remove their personal protective equipment, clean infected floors, or otherwise operate in infected areas."

"Also cited in the National Academies report was a study by University of Hong Kong researchers in Nature Medicine, which found masks reduced the detection of human coronavirus RNA — not including SARS-CoV-2 — in both respiratory droplets and aerosols. That study has yet to undergo peer review."

SOURCES: The National Academies of Sciences, Engineering and Medicine, Science, U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention