WASHINGTON — A new study examining air samples from hospital wards with COVID-19 patients has found the virus can travel up to 13 feet (four meters) — twice the distance current guidelines say people should leave between themselves in public.
The preliminary results of the investigation by Chinese researchers were published Friday in Emerging Infectious Diseases, a journal of the US Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC).
They add to a growing debate on how the disease is transmitted, with the scientists themselves cautioning that the small quantities of virus they found at this distance are not necessarily infectious
The researchers, led by a team at the Academy of Military Medical Sciences in Beijing, tested surface and air samples from an intensive care unit and a general COVID-19 ward at Huoshenshan Hospital in Wuhan. They housed a total of 24 patients between February 19 and March 2.
They found that the virus was most heavily concentrated on the floors of the wards, “perhaps because of gravity and airflow causing most virus droplets to float to the ground.”
High levels were also found on frequently touched surfaces like computer mice, trashcans, bed rails, and doorknobs.
“Furthermore, half of the samples from the soles of the ICU medical staff shoes tested positive,” the team wrote. “Therefore, the soles of medical staff shoes might function as carriers.”
The team also looked at so-called aerosol transmission — when the droplets of the virus are so fine they become suspended and remain airborne for several hours, unlike cough or sneeze droplets that fall to the ground within seconds.
They found that virus-laden aerosols were mainly concentrated near and downstream from patients at up to 13 feet — though smaller quantities were found upstream, up to eight feet.
Encouragingly, no members of the hospital staff were infected, “indicating that appropriate precautions could effectively prevent infection,” the authors wrote.
They also offered advice that bucks orthodox guidelines: “Our findings suggest that home isolation of persons with suspected COVID-19 might not be a good control strategy” given the levels of environmental contamination.
Aerosolization of the coronavirus is a contentious area for scientists who study it, because it is not clear how infectious the disease is in the tiny quantities found in ultrafine mist.
The World Health Organization has so far downplayed the risk.
US health authorities have adopted a more cautious line and urged people to cover their faces when out in public in case the virus can be transmitted through normal breathing and speaking.
WHO warns: Lifting virus lockdowns too quickly could spark ‘deadly resurgence’
GENEVA, Switzerland — A hasty lifting of restrictions imposed to control the COVID-19 pandemic could lead to a fatal resurgence of the new coronavirus, the World Health Organization (WHO) warned Friday.
WHO chief Tedros Adhanom Ghebreyesus said it was working with countries on ways in which lockdowns could be gradually eased, but said doing so too quickly could be dangerous.
“I know that some countries are already planning the transition out of stay-at-home restrictions. WHO wants to see restrictions lifted as much as anyone,” he told a virtual press conference in Geneva.
“At the same time, lifting restrictions too quickly could lead to a deadly resurgence. The way down can be as dangerous as the way up if not managed properly.
“WHO is working with affected countries on strategies for gradually and safely easing restrictions.”
The global death toll is rapidly approaching 100,000.
More than 1.6 million infections have been recorded globally, according to an AFP tally, since the virus first emerged in China in December.
Tedros welcomed signs that the spread of the virus was slowing in some of the hardest-hit countries in Europe — namely Spain, Italy, Germany and France.
But he also warned of an “alarming acceleration” of the virus in some countries, highlighting Africa, where he said the virus was beginning to spread to rural areas.
“We are now seeing clusters of cases and community spread in more than 16 countries” on the continent, he said.
“We anticipate severe hardship for already overstretched health systems, particularly in rural areas, which normally lack the resources of those in cities.”
Tedros also sent his best wishes to British Prime Minister Boris Johnson, who has been moved out of intensive care as he battles the coronavirus.
Edited by JPV
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