Post #767: Aerosol transmission of COVID-19

Posted on July 30, 2020

Source:  Japan ministry of health.  Note that the #1 item is about enclosed spaces with poor ventilation.

There’s an article in today’s New York Times that is is a must-read on the subject of aerosol (airborne) transmission of COVID-19.

It has more-or-less everything you’d need to  know on this subject in one place, including a brief summary of the extent to which various masks offer protection against airborne virus.  (They all work some, some work better than others.)

If you read this blog, you know that I figured that aerosol transmission is a serious threat some months back (Post #573, March 6, 2020).  And I have been harping on it since.

And, to be clear, lots of people and lots governments figured this out a long time ago .  Hence the poster from Japan, above.  Note that their #1 item of guidance is to avoid closed spaces with poor ventilation.   That only matters if airborne transmission is a risk.

And yet, neither the WHO nor the US CDC will just flatly say that airborne transmission of COVID-19 matters.  Today’s article in the NY Times has the same take on the WHO that I had in Post 745.  The key phrase is “grudging partial acceptance”.   And I think that’s being kind.

The problem is, when CDC does this, then every other government has to abide by that.  And what you get — with CDC’s kind-of, sort-of pretending that this isn’t happening — is grossly muddled guidance.  Some aspects of their guidance only make sense if airborne transmission is real.  For example, using outdoor spaces when possible, rather than indoor.  But in many places, they still rely on “social distancing” alone as a safety measure.  And that’s just wrongedy-wrong-wrong.  Social distancing alone is not enough to prevent aerosol (airborne) transmission of disease.

And so, because the CDC can’t say that that aerosol transmission is a real risk, it’s up to each citizen to take the official guidance and “fix it” ourselves.

The most important upshot of this is that you should wear a mask when indoors with people other than your family.  Full stop.  When you see advice that goes on to say ” … if you cannot maintain social distancing”, ignore that, because it’s wrong.  (The Commonwealth of Virginia’s mask order does it correctly, by the way.  It says to wear a mask when indoors, period.)  If you insist on indoor drinking or dining, masks off, realize that there is some unavoidable risk involved in that, even if tables are spaced to maintain proper “social distancing”.  More space is better, but six feet doesn’t guarantee anything when a disease is airborne.

A second important implication is that if we are going to require teachers to get back into the classroom, we should be obliged to provide them with quality masks.  We can’t go on pretending that maintaining a 6′ distance from a room full of students will magically keep teachers safe.  With airborne transmission, that’s just wishful thinking, and if we give teachers a choice between teaching in person or being unemployed, we have a moral and ethical obligation to give then a fighting chance to stay healthy by providing them the same N95 respirators that health care workers use.

The shame of it is, there just aren’t that many teachers in the US.  Maybe 3 million, total.  Heck, our ignorant Federal government illegally seizes that many masks on a good day.   Maybe it’s time for the Feds to one day’s worth of the masks they ripped off from the states and put those to good use protecting US school teachers.