A new study has adduced reasons why people may have to wear face masks whenever they are with others, especially in public places.
The researchers state that COVID-19 could be spread through mere breathing and not just by large droplets emitted in a cough or sneeze, hence the need for regular wearing of face masks.
The study, published in peer-reviewed journal, Science, on April 1, explained that if the virus could be suspended in the ultrafine mist that people produce when they breathe out, protection becomes more difficult, thus, strengthening the argument that people should wear masks in public to reduce unwitting transmission of the virus from asymptomatic carriers.
The National Academy of Sciences said the study has given a boost to an unsettling idea: that the virus can spread through the air.
Harvey Fineberg, who heads a standing committee on Emerging Infectious Diseases and 21st Century Health Threats had, in a letter written on April 1 and addressed to the Head of White House Office of Science and Technology Policy, Kelvin Droegemeier, noted that though current studies on the issue are not conclusive, “the results of available studies are consistent with aerosolization of virus from normal breathing.”
Before now, the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, as well as other health agencies had insisted that the primary route of transmission for severe acute respiratory syndrome coronavirus 2 (SARS-CoV-2) is through the larger respiratory droplets, of up to one millimeter across which people expel when they cough or sneeze.
The agencies maintain that gravity grounds the droplets within one or two meters, even though they deposit the virus on surfaces, from which people can pick it up and get infected when they use unwashed hands to touch their mouth, nose, or eyes.
The debate began when researchers reported earlier in the year in The New England Journal of Medicine, another peer-reviewed journal that SARS-CoV-2 can float in aerosol droplets—below 5 microns across—for up to 3 hours, and remain infectious.
In their review, Fineberg and his NAS colleagues pointed to other studies, including a recent one by Joshua Santarpia and colleagues at the University of Nebraska Medical Center that found widespread evidence of viral RNA in isolation rooms of patients being treated for COVID-19.
“Viral RNA turned up on hard to reach surfaces, as well as in air samplers more than two meters from the patients,” the Nebraska team had found.
Another preprint cited by the NAS panel raised concerns that Personal Protective Equipment could itself be a source of airborne contamination.