A new update on the nature of transmissibility of the coronavirus can possibly stall our move towards the “new normal.”
239 scientists from 32 countries compiled their research in a paper entitled “It’s Time to Address Airborne Transmission of COVID-19,” which includes evidence that the virus can linger and travel through the air, especially in indoor spaces with poor ventilation systems.
The body of proofs the scientists presented includes the case study of a restaurant in China, where nine people contracted the virus from one person because of the circulation of the airconditioning unit.
On a separate capacity, Hu Shixiong of the Hunan Provincial Center for Disease Control and Prevention also published a diagram showing how one person was able to infect eight others on a bus trip also because of the ventilation. The virus even stayed in the bus 30 minutes after and infected another person from a different trip.
What this means is that indoor spaces such as public buildings, workplaces, restaurants, schools, hospitals, and other healthcare facilities must redo their ventilation systems. Overcrowding in public transport and public buildings must also be closely watched as these are pathways for the virus to spread.
Scientists: W.H.O must revise protocols
The researchers are strongly urging the World Health Organization to revise its recommendations for member countries, and include airborne transmission as a new vector for the virus. This will be on top of the two established pathways previously confirmed by the WHO.
As reports have previously said, a person can be infected in two ways. First is through large droplets emitted when talking, sneezing, or coughing. Physical distancing should be enough measure to avoid getting infected from this.
Second is by touching “fomites” or infected objects, and then touching your face, mouth, nose, or eyes, which is why the W.H.O strongly promotes regular handwashing as a primary prevention strategy.
However, as data eventually revealed, there’s little evidence that coronavirus can be transmitted from fomites. The US Center for Disease Control and Prevention even says that surfaces play only a minor role.
The W.H.O said that it’s also possible that coronavirus can be transmitted through aerosols, but only after medical procedures. N95 masks and proper ventilation should suffice, they suggested.
When evidence of airborne transmissions came out, the technical lead of W.H.O dismissed it and said it was “unconvincing.” But as The New York Times reported, a group of 20 consultants, scientists, and members of the committee that drafted coronavirus guidelines, said that “despite good intentions, the World Health Organization is out of step with science.”
These experts who studied and created infection prevention and control measures were not listened to by the key leaders in the W.H.O. Evidence of airborne transmission, whether through large or tiny droplets, were ignored.
Borne perhaps by the growing pressure from China, tension with the United States, and other political factors, the W.H.O. infamously lagged behind in endorsing critical measures to its member countries. Previously, the WHO failed to endorse the use of face coverings to prevent infection in a timely manner. They have also said that asymptomatic transmissions are rare, despite strong data that prove otherwise. They’ve buckled in informing the public about antibodies from the virus, and on whether or not HIV positive individuals are more at-risk.
A consultant from South East Asia said that “W.H.O technical staff are scratching their heads,” because of their misgivings about WHO’s leadership. Their credibility as an organization has been put into question, the consultant added.
W.H.O’s tendency to water down information is rooted from their adversity to accepting developments — misinterpreting the “absence of evidence as evidence of absence.” This neglect for dissent can be critical at a time like this when the virus is moving faster than our human capacity to collect and verify information.
W.H.O must embrace the uncertainties, first and foremost, and assume the worst of the virus instead of giving a false sense of security, experts say. They can do it by listening to differing opinions and settling the discourse within the organization.